Isolated from the distractions of everyday administrative life, project leaders and PhD students of the interdisciplinary BOKU Doc-School AgriGenomics finally met again "live" for their annual retreat.  In the tranquil ambience of the turn-of-the-century styled "Hotel Marienhof" in Reichenau an der Rax, students from six departments spent two days presenting project progress and discussing ideas, problems and future plans in detail. Typical "Agri": the excursion to the Alpaca farm including discussions about pedigree, husbandry and breeding.  And a (supposedly calming) Alpaca walk into the surrounding forests.

Impressions of PhD students from the AgriGenomics DocSchool-Retreat 2021

After a time of online seminars, virtual conferences and countless Zoom-meetings, the first “post-COVID” AgriGenomics retreat was taking place in physical presence in an atmosphere of excitement, elation and long-desired personal reunion. As the DocSchool is approaching its second birthday, the number of students but also of the PIs attending the retreat had considerably increased compared to the first event. Therefore, especially the first day was an entertaining mixture of listening to scientific presentations of PhD-projects and trying to get to know as many new people as possible while also catching up on the stories of “old” colleagues. The highly interdisciplinary AgriGenomics DocSchool unites students and PIs of quite diverse research groups, always challenging its members to leave their own scientific comfort-zone and get involved with topics in the broader context of genomics in agricultural sciences. That this challenge was readily accepted could be seen in the lively discussions following individual presentations, sometimes in turn challenging the tight time schedule. Nevertheless, the whole group managed to be on time for an excursion to some very peculiar, very adorable and also very stubborn subjects of agricultural business: the so-called Rax-Alpakas at the farm of Doris and Mario Siwatz. By producing strange sounds and being incredibly fluffy, these animals quickly made their way into the hearts of most AgriGenomics-people during a short stroll near the farm. It seemed that conversations flowed even more easily across the woolly backs of stubborn Alpakas not really willing to walk the same way as their human guides. In consequence, chats about everything from journal publications to research stays, favorite recipes or film recommendations kept going on all through the visit at a “Most-Heurigen”, dinner and far into the night. Students presenting on the second day of the retreat were probably a little afraid that they would struggle to compete with all these nice memories created the day before – fortunately, both students and PIs were still open to explore even more aspects of the four AgriGenomics pillars bioinformatics/statistics, diversity and selection, functional genomics as well as epi-, meta- and proteomics. The afternoon-discussions within both the student- and PI-group clearly showed that the DocSchool is full of enthusiastic people aiming to become an even better-connected interdisciplinary group and ready to embark on new tasks. One of these will be to adequately celebrate several anniversaries in the coming year: 150 years of BOKU, the 200th birthday of genetics pioneer Gregor Mendel and 3 years of AgriGenomics doctoral school! With such good prospects, the official part of the 2nd AgriGenomics retreat in Reichenau an der Rax had come to an end. While some made their way home, several students and PIs extended the experience even a little longer: led by AgriGenomics-coordinator Hermann Bürstmayr, 15 members of the DocSchool invested an extra day to explore the beautiful Viennese Alps with a hike to the “Ameisbühel”. Climbing steep slopes and walking across pastoral plains near the mountain top, the AgriGenomics-group transformed into a sports team, passing roughly 1100 meters of altitude and being rewarded with cold drinks and fresh food at a mountain farm and of course a magnificent view from the peak of the “Ameisbühel”. This can be seen as a metaphore for the DocSchool: we tackle challenges as a group, help and motivate each other and manage to see things from a different perspective to successfully achieve our goals. Many thanks to everyone who helped making this experience possible, especially Christa Jakopitsch from the DocService and our coordinator Hermann Bürstmayr!