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Issue 7 News

Goodbye 2020!

🕒 12 min

It’s that amazing time of the year – holiday season! But before our team departs to a well-deserved break, let us look back on our choice of the top 10 things that happened in the S3 community in 2020.

1. We had to cancel Summer School of Science because of coronavirus

This year started off great, with S3/S3++ camps ready to accommodate the 19th generation of Summer School participants, and the 8th generation to experience S3 in Požega. Our organizers had assembled their team of project leaders, opened applications, and got ready for a typical Summer School year.

However, corona times arrived, and the whole world changed. We hoped for the best and waited a bit longer before cancelling the School, but the situation became grimmer and more unpredictable. There was no other choice – we had to cancel it.

However, the high spirits of our organizers haven’t disappeared. Our team focused their efforts into adapting the program for a still corona-afflicted 2021, hoping that we might continue our scientific story. And while this year will be remembered as the first S3-less year, we are sincerely hoping it’s also the last.

2. The birth of our blog

While our dreams of meeting new people, learning new science and getting hands-on experimental experience were shattered, our hopes of reconnecting with our alumni strengthened. With communication moving from the real world into a virtual one, we were reminded that there were other things to do, other stories to share.

We wanted to tell the world about our alumni and talk to them some more, learn about their lives. We saw potential for finding inspiring stories, as well as providing tips for younger generations from all walks of life. We realized we could try to create scientific content for anyone interested – DIY experiments for our youngest audience, tips for finding a university abroad for our soon-to-be undergrads, and many other topics, here for anyone who would listen – or read.

So we dared to try – as a small group of five volunteers, including more senior members doing postdocs and those that just embarked on their academic paths at a bachelor level. Such a combination of perspectives allowed us to reactivate our network by contacting former colleagues, but also to discover and share our own scientific interests, by sharing book recommendations or overviews of new scientific breakthroughs.

3. Getting in touch with our alumni

Everyone who’s experienced S3 also made some friends along the way. Some of them are gone by the following summer, others stick around for a lifetime. But memories and paper trails always remain.

Interviewing our alumni tends to be an easy project from start to finish – you can just email any of the previous project leaders, swappers, organizers or participants that you know yourself, and someone will answer, happy to talk to you. However, even though it’s quite fun, figuring out what to ask, what to write and how to finally shape it into something interesting is not as easy as you might think! It took us a while to assemble a standard set of questions. It takes even more time to assemble all the notes from an interview into a coherent story, revealing all the exciting twists of our alumni’s (non)scientific paths.

While our friends’ stories are exciting and still manage to be entirely new to us, we wanted more. We wanted to reach those we haven’t personally met before, people who could add another piece to the S3 puzzle. But where to start?

4. Bringing old (and often expired contacts) to life

At every School, everyone gets a contact sheet to be able to stay in touch with other participants, swapshop leaders and project leaders. As such, it left a trail which we could follow and try to get in touch with people.

Once we looked back, there were 659 people who, in one way or another, participated in our Schools so far. Finding the lists of names wasn’t the problem, but just finding a working email was already a different story. You can imagine that in the first few years of S3-like camps (eg. till 2006) very few participants had email addresses at all. Those who stayed in touch with the School or came back in more senior roles were still around, but most people were digitally lost to us. To be more specific, 16.5 % of our alumni overall are still lost to us. Some of them might be found on LinkedIn because it’s a major professional network, but then other hurdles start – what if someone has changed their name, or has become unidentifiable from photos (as people change massively over the course of ~20 years) or what if there are many people with the same name? Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find them. But we won’t lose hope, waiting for them to get in touch with us.

Additionally, whoever left us their academic email address (e.g. from their school or an institute) has also been lost due to automatic discontinuation of emails upon leaving. More precisely, another 7.9% are out of reach because of that. However, since these were mostly people who joined the School when social networks had already become more popular, one might also hope they will see our posts on Facebook and write to us.

Our contacts list was ready, but we needed an actual way to get in touch with people, so we created a short survey that allowed us to reach out to them, hear back about what they’ve done since the School and whether they wanted to stay in touch with us. In case you received our survey and you haven’t fill it out, please do it! Our main goal is to really extend the network and allow people to meet others in their country or connect people looking for internships and jobs at different universities or companies. In case you are one of those ~20 % that we haven’t managed to reach, please contact us.

Finally, some got in touch and we are extremely happy to say that 24.5 % of people that initially received our email have filled out our survey! And not only that, they are already helping shape our community by sharing their own experiences. So thank you all!

5. Expanding coverage

Those who’ve been following us for a while had probably liked our S3 or EVO Facebook pages and are probably used to reading the news or browsing photos from each edition of the School. This is definitely our most active platform, with our current audience being above 2000 followers. Some of you are part of private groups created for a specific School, too. But as social networks are expanding, we also had to cover more ground. So if you are on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, but not on Facebook, have a look and follow us there. In some instances our accounts are not super active, but we are hoping to change that in the coming months. Also, in case you would like to help us with social network upkeep, feel free to write to us!

6. Applying for grants

Since the Society for Out-of-Frame Education is a non-profit organization that takes care of Summer School of Science, we are often looking for extra funds. This is because, if we manage to get more funds, we are able to decrease the price of our camps each year or provide scholarships to students coming from low-income families. We strongly believe in giving chances to motivated students even when they cannot afford it.

So how are we doing this year? As you can imagine, this was an economically tough year for everyone in the world, including us. We applied for two grants, and we’ve been short-listed for one (we hope to get the results soon). As we currently don’t have any big sponsors, we will have to get extra active next year and hope for the best.

But since you are all there, let me ask you very openly – would you know of someone or some institution that would like to donate to keep Summer School of Science going? Maybe your institute, university or a company? In case you do, please contact us and we can give you more details.

Or would you like to help us by writing a grant? It’s something that almost anyone can do, you will learn a lot and you will gain a valuable experience for the future! And if you are afraid that you might work on it and not manage to get it, don’t fret! We’ve been doing the same thing for years now, so we know how difficult it is and we won’t be disappointed. If you find this interesting, feel free to get in touch with us!

Or maybe you’d even like to become one of our financial supporters? Every cent counts and helps us in the long term. If that’s the case, you can directly donate money to our account here:

  • Account number (IBAN): HR8523400091110466630
  • Account name: DRUŠTVO ZA EDUKACIJU VAN OKVIRA
  • Address: Crnojezerska ulica 20, Zagreb, Croatia
  • The reason/description of payment: Donation

If you decide to help us this way, there are additional charges which apply to the sent amount.

7. Activating alumni contributors

As a direct consequence of getting in touch with our alumni, we found a few people who wanted to join our blog team, growing to double the size of the initial count. While they are off being busy bees, often writing, reading or correcting content, we’ve had one alumnus presenting their scientific project so far. We also got in touch with a few people who we hope will write something next year, but we would also love to hear from you – in case you’d love to write about science, whether it be on a regular basis or as a one-time thing, we are happy to have you!

8. Study Abroad

I would like to specifically touch on one of our success stories – our new category, Study Abroad. It started off with a simple question – can we help other students study abroad? This is why exactly we approached Nikola, who then shared his story and actively talked to his friends and other alumni who have had similar experiences. At this point we have written university guides for several countries around the world, and there are more to come.

Such a simple idea set in motion a project which will not stop at bachelor’s studies, but will cover other levels of higher education. What would you think about sharing tips for finding a job? How to ace an interview? So many possibilities, so little time. If you have a bit of extra time, we are open to collaboration.

9. Success stories from our S3 network

If I’m being honest, this is why I signed up for this job. I don’t know about you, but when someone I know gets recognition for something they did, I am as happy for them as I would be for myself. I want to congratulate them and I feel immensely proud to know them. There are still so many stories to be told. Our alumni have done so much, everything from getting published in top journals to winning prestigious awards. We hope to establish a strong network so that we can share their stories and tell the world how proud we are.

However, while on the topic of successes, I find the greatest S3 network success is being a safe place where you can communicate any story. We are as proud of our community’s failures as we are of their successes. We learn from the mistakes of others. We can shape them into useful advice. We have a LinkedIn private group where we can discuss these and other similar topics. Over the last few months we have been presenting our members, by now approximately fifteen people, so people can get to know each other. Only recently have people started sharing their first internship calls, which makes us very proud. So thanks a lot to everyone involved! Feel free to join us if you’d like to contribute in any way.

10. The first virtual Christmas reunion

I’ve saved the best thing for last. I am proud to announce that we are organizing our first ever virtual S3(++) Christmas reunion! Every year so far, we’ve met up in Zagreb, but this time, the circumstances won’t allow it. Many Croatians living, studying or working abroad are unable to come, we made an effort to meet in a virtual space!

This means that – finally – anyone can join us, meet their colleagues from S3 and follow up on what they’ve done since they last saw each other. To make it easier for those who have been to more than one camp to find someone they know, we are organizing the reunion over 3 days as follows:

  • 28th December: S3/S3++ 2013 – 2016
  • 29th December: S3/S3++ 2017 – 2019
  • 30th December: S3/S3++ 2001 – 2012

It does not mean that if you were at S3/S3++ 2013 you are only welcome on the 28th of December, but it will be most probable that you will chat with someone from your camp if you join on that day. However, you are absolutely free to sign up and join whenever you want!

The invites should have arrived to your email boxes by now, but in case you haven’t received one, contact us and we will send you the link to register for the reunion. And if you are wondering how this is going to work – there will be a bunch of virtual tables where you can sit and talk to people from your camp, as well as mini talks and a speed-networking event. So without any further ado – see you there!

Final notes

With this short overview, I wanted to give you a taste of the things we did during this crazy year, using our free time to strengthen our amazing community. But you have to admit, we deserve a break during the holidays to recharge our batteries and gather new ideas for next year. We will be back shortly after New Year’s and bring you a short overview of our Christmas reunion.

Till then, we wish you peaceful and happy holidays, surrounded by the people you care about. Take the time to relax with a book or your favorite game in order to get yourself ready for a fresh start in 2021!

Your S3 blog team

By Petra Gerber

Computational biologist focused on single cell data. Board game enthusiast and passionate about talking with our alumni.

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