Malvika’s SciFund writing assignment about HUB

The text below is a blog written by HUB/WUBSyB participant Malvika Sharan, as an assignment for an online course she participated in offered by SciFund challenge for scientific outreach.

Un-seminar in Bioinformatics, it’s finally happening!

I am Malvika Sharan, a PhD student at the University of Würzburg. My target audience includes graduate students and researchers in and around Würzburg, Germany, who are working in the fields of bioinformatics and systems biology.

As a PhD student of bioinformatics (working in a research group where most people are experimental biologists), attending bio-computational conferences has always made me feel like home where everyone talks the same technical language as me (maybe a bit more fluently)!


One of the sessions of Heidelberg Unseminars in Bioinformatics at EMBL. Image by Adam Gristwood. Source:

In one such conference in 2013, while I was still trying to figure out my scientific interests as a ‘first-year-PhD-student’, I signed up for a side-event called ‘Birds of a feather (BoF)’ on ‘Unseminars’. At this event, I learnt that an ‘unseminar’ (which was apparently not a printing mistake for ‘seminar’) refers to a participant-driven unconventional seminar. We, as participants, could choose topics and share our scientific interests with like-minded people in a completely laid-back environment.


Aidan Budd addressing an unseminar. Image by Matthew Betts

Without doubt, this was one of the most welcoming events I ever attended. Aidan Budd, who worked as a computational biologist at European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, was the organizer of this event. He enthusiastically shared his approach of using unseminar as a tool for community building and introduced us to Heidelberg Unseminars in Bioinformatics (HUB) that he had co-founded in Heidelberg.

This experience motivated my supervisor, Konrad, and me to organize a similar event to bring bioinformatics enthusiasts together in our university. We kept in touch with Aidan and contributed to a crowd-sourced effort of writing a scientific article on unseminars and unconferences that got published early this year.

Video filmed at HUB7

Meanwhile, during several events in my university, I met quite a few researchers who have been working in diverse fields of computational biology: those who don’t get an opportunity or platform for interacting with other groups that share their interests.


Nike’s famous philosophy: “JUST DO IT”. Source: WikiMedia commons

Now, more than ever, I felt a desperate need to revisit the idea of bringing the bioinformatics community together in my university. As a ‘final-year-PhD-student’, I have developed teaching skills, organized several events in my graduate school, participated in several hours of unseminar-discussions with my colleagues and gained outreach knowledge from the SciFund challenge training. It looks like the right time has come to “JUST DO IT” (so says the Nike-box on my shoe-stand)!

Well, there it is! A not-too-elaborate background story of the unseminar event that is finally happening in our institute (Institute for Molecular Infection Biology, University of Würzburg) on November 18, 2015 at 5:00 pm. We have set up a basic webpage and sent out invitations to everyone in the university. The response so far is encouraging and I am eager to see how this turns out.

If you have any suggestions, experiences, or anecdotes to share, feel free to get in touch with us!


Now that the first Würzburg WUBSyB has been held, I can report that it was attended by more than 30 researchers from different institutes in University of Würzburg. Due to common interest we would be organizing it on second Thursday of each month.