Student Serves on Panel With Nobel Winners at Prestigious Conference

Many students take part in workshops and symposia during the summer, but Mallory Ladd got the chance to participate in a particularly notable event.

Ladd, a graduate research fellow and doctoral student the joint UTOak Ridge National Laboratory Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, attended the sixty-fifth annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

Panel

UT doctoral student Mallory Ladd, second from right, served on a panel at the conference with (from left) moderator Adam Smith, University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Jalees Rehman, Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt, 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine winner Harold Varmus, and 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics winner Brian Schmidt.

The meeting, held June 28–July 3, brought together 650 budding scientists from around the world along with sixty-five Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics, and physiology and medicine.

“This meeting really changed the way I think about a lot of things,” said Ladd, who noted the only way for her to attend the event again is to return as a Nobel Prize winner. “Speaking with scientists from around the world, and from multiple generations, offered such a unique perspective I’m not sure I could have gained any other way and gave me newfound motivation to get into the lab and discover something new.”

Ladd said that the very nature of the work done through the Bredesen Center opened the door for her participation.

Chu Selfie

Mallory Ladd and former US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu pose for a selfie at the sixty-fifth annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

The meeting normally focuses on a single Nobel area, but this year’s meeting was interdisciplinary, combining all three research areas.

Bredesen Center director Lee Riedinger and Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Taylor Eighmy nominated Ladd to attend.

“Mallory is a leader in various graduate-student initiatives on campus, including a recent women in STEM conference, and is a model for the type of graduate student we want to consistently recruit for our interdisciplinary doctorate in energy science and engineering,” said Riedinger. “We are thrilled that she is part of our program.”

While even being asked to attend is high praise enough, Ladd was invited to be a panelist at the conference, adding to the honor.

“It was very exciting to be a panelist and contribute to the Lindau Blog with an article about interdisciplinarity and my current research,” said Ladd. “It also gave me the opportunity to talk a bit about my own blog that I started last year to share my experiences in graduate school and practice communicating my research.”

Other panelists with Ladd included Nobel laureates Brian Schmidt and Harold Varmus, Jalees Rehman from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Marcia McNutt, the editor-in-chief of Science, who is slated to become the first woman to lead the U.S. National Academy of Sciences when the current president steps down July 1, 2016.

“Mallory’s selection to serve on the science communication panel is a real testament to her acumen and leadership,” Eighmy said. “She has excelled as a Bredesen Center graduate student and in her doctoral dissertation work on carbon storage in arctic ecosystems.”

Ladd shared her top five lessons learned from Lindau:

  • Don’t be afraid to challenge existing paradigms. “Many of the laureates stressed to work smart. Not hard. Never stop asking questions. Especially about the things that have been said can’t be known.”
  • Science cannot be left out of policy discussions. “Although most agreed that scientists should not become advocates, the laureates and young scientists from around the world agreed we have a responsibility to provoke societal debate on issues in ethics and policy that pertain to our science.
  • Science needs women. “Of the sixty-five Nobel laureates in attendance, only three were women. Despite making up half of the world’s population, only sixteen women have been awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry, physics, or physiology and medicine since 1901.
  • Africa is full of brilliant young minds eager and able to make scientific change. “This year, there were thirty-five young African scientists in attendance—more than ever before.
  • Stop building your resume and do what you love. “This struck a chord with me because there’s a joke among my peers that if you can’t put it on your CV, don’t waste time doing it. The laureates said my generation is too worried about whether we will be able to get the right job in the end.”

While much of the conference was decidedly serious, there were also many opportunities for the laureates and young scientists to interact socially.

Ladd said she “tried not to fangirl too hard” during most of the meetings with laureates, but found herself feeling star-struck twice.

On the event’s first day, after finishing a conversation with 2009 Nobel winner Elizabeth Blackburn, Ladd turned and did a “Tiger Woods-style fist pump to my friends,” not realizing Blackburn had turned back around to add one final comment.

“We both laughed, though, and actually ended up talking quite a few more times that week,” said Ladd. “The next day, I tried to play it cool as I introduced myself to former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, but ended up asking for his autograph and a selfie when we were done talking. Someone near us asked if we wanted someone else to take the picture for us and before I could say anything, he said, ‘No, no, we have to do a selfie—that’s different.’

“I still laugh thinking about it.”

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)