What it is like to be a researcher

FMI researchers were leading the practical activities with the students
FMI researchers were leading the practical activities with the students

Over 200 high school students visited the FMI last week to learn more about biomedical research and the everyday life of a researcher. The goal of the event was to help the student better understand what it really means to work in research so that they can take more informed decisions about their course of study and professional future.

"Days of Genetic Research" ("Tage der Genforschung" in German) was an initiative launched in Switzerland in 1998 with the aim of giving the general public an insight into biomedical research, and gene technology in particular, and thus ensuring transparency.

The official initiative has long gone, but the FMI still organizes its own "Days of Genetic Research" every year (but there were no events in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid pandemic): On two days, we invite several classes of high school students and their teachers - from Northwestern Switzerland and neighboring Germany - for half a day to the FMI. At our institute the students get to learn more about biomedical research, do scientific experiments themselves and have discussions with FMI PhD students and postdocs to obtain information about their everyday life as a researcher.

The goal of our event is to provide young people who are about to finish high school and take a decision about their professional future with an insight into biomedical research, thereby hopefully encouraging them to study biology or a related topic.

This year, on May 10 and 11, we welcomed over 100 young people each day at the FMI. First, they all gathered in a meeting room for short presentations by our director about the FMI and the basics of genetics, and to get a flavor of the research topics investigated at the FMI with talks by group leaders: "Can we change our memories" and "neuronal networks in biomedical research".

The students then separated in smaller groups to participate in several practical activities led by PhD students and postdocs from the FMI.

With the computational neuroscientists from the Zenke lab, the high school students learnt that one doesn’t necessarily need a laboratory to do research in neurobiology - a computer may be enough. The students were given the opportunity to play with a simple computer game designed by the Zenke lab that serves as a neural network model and can be compared to what is happening in an animal brain.
In this activity, the students learnt about live imaging. They had to take a sample of their mouth epithelia, mix it with specific dyes and visualize their own cells under the microscope. They could also Another activity was dedicated to a discussion about animal research, why it is still needed nowadays and what alternatives are currently in development to reduce and replace experiments involving animals.
The students also had a chance to look at in vitro generated neuronal cells under the microscope.
Finally, the students learnt about the natural blind spot we all have in each of our eyes. They were invited to explore their own blind spot and calculate its distance to the fovea. This short experiment showed them that our perception does not always reflect objective reality.
The students then spent nearly 45 minutes interacting in a Q&A session with FMI PhD students who told them about their research project, the everyday in the lab and answered all the questions our young guests had on their mind.