ESDR Academy for Future Leaders in Dermatology: A Modern Success Story to Foster Young Academic Dermatologists and Skin Scientists

      It has now been 10 years since the first European Society for Dermatological Research (ESDR) Academy for Future Leaders in Dermatology (FLA) was launched by ESDR in Cascais, Portugal. What started as an experiment has become a stable fostering activity of ESDR. The idea of launching a yearly event where the finest young people in academic dermatology are assembled was born in 2006. When joining the board of ESDR, I (Alexander Enk) felt that ESDR really lacked a mentoring program for young clinicians and scientists and thereby missed a chance to inspire these young people for their future work. I did think back to the days when I was a fledgling researcher and how impressed I was when I was invited to one of the Montagna symposia organized by the Society for Investigative Dermatology. I felt so special to be selected! I could present and discuss my scientific work not only with my peers but also with renowned scientists such as Ralph Steinman, Charles Janeway, and Georg Stingl. More importantly, these people took me seriously; they treated me with respect and served as role models for a scientific career in dermatology and/or immunology. I wanted to be like them and returned from the symposium highly motivated, willing to work very hard, and with a lot of new ideas. In addition, in the beautiful setting of the Rocky Mountains, many personal ties and relationships were formed over a good glass of wine and inspiring discussion after the official program was over and social networking began. I still think that this event stimulated me to continue on the path to become a clinical scientist in dermatology.
      So, in 2006 when joining the ESDR Board, I decided to contact industrial partners to ask their financial support for this mission. Fortunately, it was not too difficult to get them on board and secure funds for FLA. The idea I had was to recruit the 20–25 best young scientists from all over Europe to have them present their latest research to one another but also to a group of selected senior mentors. This was meant to be organized in a nice setting to inspire their creativity and collegiality. The ratio of mentor to mentee was set at 1:2, ideal for personal interactions. The selection process was organized by the ESDR Board. Potential participants’ applications were selected by the board based on scientific impact. Participants were asked to present their scientific work at the meeting over two consecutive days followed by intense poster discussions. This was augmented by main lectures given by the mentors. Over dinner, two mentees were placed next to their mentor to allow for more personal interactions and continued scientific discussions. The ultimate goal was to form networks of young scientists among each other but also to connect with the mentors that would volunteer to provide career advice even after the symposium. This worked out beautifully (Figure 1). In just about no time, the young leaders were able to organize a future leaders symposium at the annual ESDR meeting followed by alumni receptions. As time passed, this grew into a future leader’s dinner event (Figure 2).
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      Figure 1Participants of the first Future Leaders Academy in Cascais, Portugal, 2010.
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      Figure 2Participants of the most recent Future Leaders Symposium in Bordeaux, France 2019.
      Although the format of FLA has slightly changed during the last 10 years, the basic idea has remained the same. A second chairperson was added in 2014, and the meeting has moved from Florence to Barcelona, from Budapest to Porto and then to Madrid. Since its birth, this event has been consistently supported and promoted by all ESDR boards and by the outstanding commitment of all mentors. But we all know that goodwill is not enough, and this would have not been possible without clear objectives and milestones. Likewise, the consistency of rigorous evaluation criteria for the selection of the best candidates over the years has allowed more than 200 mentees to participate in FLA sessions. It is with pride that ESDR can look back to a very successful fostering program, with some of the former mentees now being ESDR Board members. In addition, the future leaders symposia organized by the young scientists themselves have become a major part at all ESDR meetings, thereby documenting the role of the ESDR for the support and success of young scientists in dermatology. Aside from the number and the quality of the applicants, great pride is also nurtured by the diversity of the mentees’ backgrounds and expertise, with a remarkable balance between doctoral fellows, PhDs, and MD–PhDs, with gender and geographic representations reflecting the priority that ESDR gives to an inclusive ethical policy. The recent moves toward Central-Eastern Europe honor a vivid, still growing force in skin science. The selection of applicants coming from nonEuropean countries such as Turkey, Mexico, Korea, Japan, and the US, to name a few, is a concrete image of the broadening spectrum of our society.
      Finally, FLA is by no means a rigidly framed event. On the contrary, it means to be an evolving experiment, conducted in close coordination and with the approval of the full ESDR Board. This policy has recently given birth to additional initiatives, which were launched based on aspirations expressed by mentees in FLA round table sessions. These include the web-educational platform initiative and the first leadership mentoring course, which took place in Manchester, United Kingdom, in November 2019, cochaired by Chris Griffiths and Naomi Chambers. Indeed, it seems vital for us that FLA, rooted in this strong and fertile soil, keeps up with its original statements while reinventing itself again and again, in line with the jazz music genius Miles Davis quote: “Don't play what's there; play what's not there.”

      Conflict of Interest

      AE states no conflict of interest. HB has participated in consulting paid activities for AbbVie, Almirall, Amgen, Biocad, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Celgene, Dermavant, Eli-Lilly, Janssen, Keirin, Leo Pharma, Mylan, Novartis, and UCB.


      This article is published as part of a supplement sponsored by the European Society for Dermatological Research .
      The authors would like to thank all other chairs and cochairs of FLA, namely Menno de Rie, Michael Hertl, Matthias Schmuth, and Marta Szell; all ESDR Presidents and board members who supported FLA , with a special mention to those who actively participated to the selection process of applicants; ESDR office members Thomas Florestan, Caroline Blondel-Baldassare, and Valérie Aulas; and pharmaceutical industry sponsors Abbott, AbbVie , Almirall, Celgene , Janssen, Lilly , Novartis , Pfizer , and Roche .This manuscript received grant support from Boehringer-Ingelheim and Pfizer.

      Author Contributions

      Conceptualization: AE, HB; Writing - Original Draft Preparation: AE, HB