Summer School in Biophysics at ORNL: Computational and Experimental Challenges


Following the workshop, we collected anonymous feedback and received 33 replies. Three were from speakers, and thirty from participants. Sixteen of the 33 respondents had background in physics, mathematics, engineering, or computer science with no biology or chemistry. Four had background in physics and biology, or physics and chemistry.

The level of scientific program was rated as "excellent" by 14 respondents, as "good" by 15, and as "average" by four. Other options for rating were "low" and "poor".

The presentations overall were rated as "very interesting" by 8, "interesting" by 19, and "average" by 5. One respondent missed this question. Other options included "not interesting" and "poor".

The amount of information learned at the workshop was rated as "more than expected" by 12, "as much as expected" by 14, and "less than expected" by 6. One of the respondents did not answer.

Twenty two respondents had difficulties understanding presentations when they contained chemistry (8), biology (14), physics (4), mathematics (3), and computer science (1). People could check more than one subject. Eleven respondents said that all presentations were at the correct level.

The scope of the workshop was rated as "too narrow" by 7, "too wide" by 2, and "right on target" by 24 respondents.

The most interesting responses were given to the question "if your background includes little or no biology, describe the effect the Summer School in Biophysics had on your thoughts regarding possible career in bio-sciences," from "the stuff I learned may not be immediately relevant for my career, yet it has definitely widened my horizons" and "The Summer School gave me the opportunity to see more bio-intensive research, but did not make me want to change career paths", to "it reconfirmed my belief that the problems that arise in traditional biology and chemistry require physics to take it to the next level. I'm leaning towards a career in biophysics, and the summer school helped that choice," and "it seems that MD simulation is welcome by some bio people now. And this might give some opportunity to find some common language between the computation physicist and scientists in biology or biochemistry", and "I saw some things which were more interesting to me that what previous courses in biology had appeared to offer. My interest in biology is definitely greater, and I think I learned more during that conference than I would in a month of coursework", and "before I came to this summer school, my background of biology is very weak. I am trying to find a very interesting intersection between my mathematical background and biology. This summer school showed me a lot of interesting, and exiting topics on biology, also in mathematics, I am exited to do more research on this area. Thanks to this summer school." Overall out of 15 people who responded to this question, ten answered positively (they want to consider a career in biology), and five negatively.

The question "what did you like most about the workshop" provided interesting and sometimes surprising insights. For example, both people who previously indicated that the scope of the workshop was too wide, wrote that they liked the most "wide variety of topics, from synthetic cells to bioinformatics to MD simulations. I liked the mix of experimental/computational talks," and "It's very wide spectra." Many people praised the level of speakers, for example, "I enjoyed most of the presentations, especially those by Greg Petsko and Benoit Roux. The overall atmosphere of science was probably the best feeling I got from the program", or "Some of the presenters were quite amazing, and I was very happy to see that almost all of them gave reasonably interesting presentations within the time limit. The biology was high level, which was good, even if some of it was over my head." Many commented on the atmosphere of the workshop: "I really liked the honesty of the lecturers and scholars attending the summer school. If someone had a problem they discussed it. It made for a good platform for learning. The professors and the students seemed to be mixed together very well during the lecture intermissions. This gave a hands-on feel for the scholars", and "good review presentations by some of the invited speakers, very informal atmosphere, good lobby discussions, convenient logistics."

When asked what they would change, participants wanted more discussion-type interactions: "I would suggest having coffee-talk type of discussions to promote interaction and collaboration among visitors. Perhaps discuss specific big problems of the field, or discuss intersections of research interests among the members visiting", and "I would organize a 'get together' event right after arrival so that participants could get to know each other immediately. In my opinion the social aspect of conference is nearly as much important as its scientific program", and "Small group discussion", and "more coffee breaks", and "longer poster session to allow more time to interact". Also more talks on computational techniques were suggested: "some more talks on bio-math (computational plus analytical by using modeling)", "the only thing I would change would be for more Computational scientist to give lectures i.e. Quantum Chemists, Structural Bioinformatics, and researchers running pure large scale Molecular Dynamics." There were also conflicting suggestions to narrow and widen the scope of the workshop.

The poster session had good reviews from most, from "I enjoyed the Poster session" to even "The poster session was by far the best poster session that I've ever been to. It was elegant yet laid back. There was a wide variety of research presented. I learned a lot of interesting things," and "The poster session was great, and the best one I have been to. It was a relaxed atmosphere and very proper for learning." However, some commented that it was "too short, too late, everybody was tired", or asked to "serve actual food and not just appetizers."

For "other organizational comments", 6 out of the 13 responses to that question were that the workshop was well organized, for example, "Pretty well organized. Meeting facilities were good as well as meals", or "Perfect organization - one of the best I ever saw". We were also given some valuable suggestions, such as "would suggest that session chairs add some perspective around the speakers talks with some comments around the importance/relevance to the biophysics field. This brings the talks into context", and comments about internet access at the UT Conference Center (it is restricted by UTK password, so the participants could not access their emails while at the workshop.)

There was one comment stating that there was no application of physics in the entire workshop. With this, we would like to respectfully disagree and point out that 10 out of 18 speakers of the program came into the bio-sciences from physics, and that was quite apparent from their talks.


Oak Ridge National Laboratory