Looking Back to the Future: ESDR Academy for Future Leaders in Dermatology, 2011

  • Enikö Sonkoly
    Correspondence: Enikö Sonkoly, Karolinska University Hospital, CMM L8:02, SE- 17176 Stockholm, Sweden.
    Dermatology and Venereology Division, Department of Medicine Solna, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
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      In 2011, nine years ago now, I came across an announcement about a meeting called the ESDR Academy for Future Leaders in Dermatology (FLA) that would take place in Cascais, Portugal. The time when I saw this announcement was an exciting and busy time in my life: I was in the middle of my dermatology residency and in the middle of my application for the associate professorship, the first PhD student I supervised just defended her thesis, and I had two small children at home. I had exciting research projects going on, while at the same time, the residency felt everlasting, especially in comparison to my nonscientist colleagues who started it later than me and still finished it earlier. If anyone had asked at that time, I would not have identified myself as a future leader of dermatology. I did not really know what to expect, but the FLA seemed like an innovative and interesting initiative. In retrospect, I was fortunate to be selected and the meeting turned out to be something exceptional, different from any other meeting I had attended before. The meeting, led by Alexander Enk and co-organized by Vincent Piguet and Antonio Costanzo, was designed to promote mentorship within the society as described by the organizers (
      • Enk A.
      • Ingram J.R.
      • Piguet V.
      Future leaders: mentor investment in young investigators.
      ); here, my aim is not to describe the program or its aims but rather to give a personal view on FLA in retrospect.
      FLA gathered a small but enthusiastic group of young scientists with different backgrounds and interests, engaged in different aspects of dermatological research, enthusiastic about their research topic, and pursuing a career in academic dermatology. This special group was brought together with another very special group: representatives of the absolute best of academic dermatology, established scientists, and leaders in dermatology. Bringing together these groups resulted in a vibrant atmosphere that enabled open discussions not usually possible in science-focused meetings. The relative isolation of the groups at the beautiful Portuguese seacoast (Figures 1 and 2) far from other distractions was the icing on the cake. Here I would like to mention a few things that I found valuable:
      • 1.
        To hear about the bright career stories, including the highs and lows. Through the mentor presentations, we got the opportunity to hear adventurous career stories, stories of curiosity and tenacity, serendipities and endurance, long and winding paths with all different types of hurdles such as difficulties in science and with people, organizations, and funding. At the early and/or middle stage of the career, it is encouraging and enlightening to hear these stories and realize that a straightforward path in science is as rare as a unicorn.
      • 2.
        To get in touch with young scientists from different countries in a similar situation. Scientists and clinician scientists in dermatology encounter similar situations and challenges in their scientific career regardless of where they work, but there are also some country- or region-specific differences. This exchange of experiences is useful, and although hearing about differences can give some ideas for improvement on the home ground, the similarities make you feel part of an international community. I was reminded of the fact that even though residency for a clinician scientist can take a very long time in Sweden, the protected research time I had is to be valued.
      • 3.
        To get to know leaders in the field of dermatology in another context than a big meeting, to have the opportunity to interact in an open, constructive atmosphere.
      • 4.
        To discuss science in an open, collegial, and constructive atmosphere. Although the FLA was not primarily a scientific meeting, the diverse and high-quality science and the open exchange of ideas is also memorable. In addition to discussing the science itself, there was an opportunity to discuss what is behind the process of how ideas are conceived and realized, aspects that are usually not discussed in scientific publications or presentations.
      • 5.
        To get perspective on the career. Getting off the hamster wheel of a clinician scientist, with clinical duties, grant deadlines, and so forth, for 2.5 days and see things from the bird’s eye view.
      • 6.
        Last but absolutely not the least: fun! One of the greatest enjoyments in life is to interact with smart people in an informal setting. The FLA provides an excellent opportunity for this kind of interaction.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1Cascais, Portugal. The location of ESDR Academy for Future Leaders in Dermatology, 2011. ESDR, European Society for Dermatological Research.
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Figure 2Cascais, Portugal. Presenting my data at the ESDR Academy for Future Leaders in Dermatology, 2011. ESDR, European Society for Dermatological Research.
      I returned home from Cascais in November 2011 with an enthusiasm that lasted for a long time. Together with Dr Andor Pivarcsi, associate professor, molecular biologist, we established a noncoding RNA–focused dermatology research laboratory at Karolinska Institutet, which has been growing since then, and we have attracted funding and mentored several PhD students to develop as scientists, thus fostering the valuable spirit of FLA in our local environment.
      FLA has become a yearly tradition since the first time I participated in 2011; now the goal is to continue the tradition, keep its spirit, and pass it on to future leaders in academic dermatology, both at the coming FLA meetings and in the local research environment.

      Conflict of Interest

      The author states no conflict of interest.


      This article is published as part of a supplement sponsored by the European Society for Dermatological Research .


        • Enk A.
        • Ingram J.R.
        • Piguet V.
        Future leaders: mentor investment in young investigators.
        J Invest Dermatol. 2012; 132: 1943-1944