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BSI Immunology North East

The BSI Immunology North East Group is a Regional Group of the British Society for Immunology. It was created to promote interaction and collaboration between all those interested in immunology in the North East of England. Here, Dr Ben Barron-Millar, the Group’s Communications Officer, tells us about their activities, including seminars from renowned immunologists, a friendly journal club and public engagement events, their transition to a virtual world and how you can get involved.

Our Immunology North East (INE) regional group for the British Society for Immunology was set up to enable discussion and collaboration between immunologists in the North East of England linking Newcastle University, University of Northumbria, Durham University and Sunderland University. Events and activities throughout the year organised by our committee bring together individuals from both academic and clinical settings, and include students (undergraduate and postgraduate), research associates, early career research fellows, principal investigators and external speakers on all aspects of immunology.

Typically, our programme of events encompasses a series of seminars (presented by international and national speakers) hosted by one of the INE institutions, journal clubs (hosted at lunchtime in a nearby venue with pizza, pub quizzes (every quarter) and public engagement events (such as Pint of Science). This programme of events is rounded off by our annual INE Research Symposia and AGM, which offers researchers in the region a chance to showcase their work via poster and oral presentations in a one-day event with a keynote speaker.

As this has not been a typical year our modus operandi had to change with the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altering the landscape of engagement between researchers and the public.

Virtual transition

Our seminars bring together speakers with our INE members from different institutes in the region. Typically, we invite eminent local, national and international scientists to give inspiring seminars to our researchers and students, which promote discussions and have led to novel ideas and collaborations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic expanded globally, our programme of events was naturally affected with speakers no longer being able to visit Newcastle. In recent months, our seminar programme has re-started with the new academic year in a new Zoom-oriented format. Our 2019–2020 programme finished after the first lockdown with an AGM in July 2020 where our keynote Professor Gerry Graham (University of Glasgow) spoke about his research into ‘Chemokine receptors and the orchestration of the inflammatory response’.

Our 2020 monthly seminar programme had good attendance rates (despite a growing rate of Zoom fatigue) and promoted active discussion sessions. These virtual seminars were recorded for members that were not available for the live event to allow for other commitments/ responsibilities.

Due to its prior success a virtual version of our journal club was re-instigated during the first lockdown. This was important as it allowed postgraduate students and researchers to engage with one another in a period of particularly low morale. Additionally, two online pub quizzes – comprising immunology, general knowledge and film trivia rounds – took place at quarterly intervals, carrying on from the previous year. Though not in their usual setting these events were well attended and provided a welcome break from news fatigue and a light-hearted atmosphere.

Science festivals

As part of its public outreach programme, the BSI INE Group is involved in events to highlight the importance of immunology research in day-to-day life and engage with the general public. One such event is the Pint of Science festival designed to bring researchers to local pubs to talk about scientific research. In the past we have sponsored the ‘Our Body’ theme of the Pint of Science festival in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (2018 and 2019) with tickets selling out over the three-day event, equating to audiences of over 100 from the general community.

The 2019 event consisted of researchers talking about research being carried out at Newcastle University on autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr Ben Barron-Millar
Newcastle University Immunology North East
Communications Officer

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