In the fall of 2022, the IS-MPMI Board of Directors invited proposals for open-format sessions that would promote audience engagement with the science being presented at the 2023 IS-MPMI Congress in Providence, Rhode Island. This became a topic of discussion during a lab hike in October 2022. Several innovative ways to break the mold of traditional PowerPoint presentations were floated. From this discussion, the idea of conducting a quiz-based gameshow generated the most excitement. Exactly how this could be executed in the context of the IS-MPMI Congress was refined over the subsequent weeks. As the name implies, "Who Wants to Be an (MPMI)llionaire?" is a quiz-based gameshow modeled after the popular TV show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" (I grew up watching this show on TV, and it was one of my personal favorites). We decided to focus the quizzes on MPMI knowledge gleaned from attending all of the plenary sessions during this congress, with a goal of promoting attendance, especially by Ph.D. students, postdocs, and early-career researchers.
After this concept struck a chord within the group, we saw the potential to adapt it to suit the theme of the congress, Protecting Our Planet Through Plant–Microbe Research. However, one of the key challenges in introducing this session was to ensure that it remained relevant to the congress' central theme, which meant that the quiz questions must not only be entertaining, but also intellectually stimulating, challenging participants' knowledge of plant–microbe interactions. To achieve this, we asked the plenary speakers to provide relevant questions based on their latest findings to be presented at the congress. We really appreciate the help provided by the speakers, nearly all of whom embraced our vision and provided a fun set of multiple-choice questions covering various aspects of their work, including their latest research, historical breakthroughs, and intriguing facts. Alongside this, we kept refining the logistics of our gameshow format, which required testing multiple platforms for conducting live quizzes with the audience.
Once the concept was affirmed, the IS-MPMI organizing committee sought to garner support and sponsorship from relevant stakeholders. This session was generously funded by our industry sponsor Corteva Agriscience, which helped cover the costs of organizing the event and offered attractive prizes for the winners. By involving industry sponsors, the committee strengthened the bond between the scientific community and industry, further enriching the congress experience for all participants. The representatives from Corteva Agriscience,
Dr. Rao Uppalapatti and
Dr. Ryan Kessens, were invited to hand out the awards to the finalists.
The top eight finalists after the two online quiz rounds were
Samuel Eastman (Princeton University),
Mauricio Contreras (The Sainsbury Laboratory),
Unnati Sonawala (University of Cambridge),
Jake Schumacher (North Dakota State University),
Caroline Stone (John Innes Centre),
Miette Hennessy (University of Wisconsin-Madison),
Kelsey Wood (UC Davis), and
Emma Turley (John Innes Centre). This final group of candidates then participated in the in-person championship round at the conclusion of the congress, which had remarkable attendance and audience engagement.
Here are a few comments from our finalists:
It was an honor to participate in the final round of (MPMI)llionaire! This event was one of the most exciting parts of this year's congress!
– Samuel Eastman, Postdoctoral Researcher, Conway Group, Princeton University, USA
As a second-year Ph.D. student from the UK, I was lucky enough to attend my first IS-MPMI congress in 2023. My research is currently focused on understanding fungal manipulation of plant cell-to-cell communication via plasmodesmata—the microscopic channels that directly connect adjacent cells to establish the symplast. At the congress, I was keen to hear about the latest developments in plant–microbe research, especially regarding effector protein structure/function and cell biology of infection. The plenary talks certainly did not disappoint, and the topics covered were remarkably diverse. Incorporation of the (MPMI)llionaire gameshow gave me additional motivation to take note of both the key messages and specific details of the presentations. Although I only narrowly scraped into the top eight after the second round of the quiz, I enjoyed participating in the final in-person championship and look forward to similar events at congresses in future.
– Emma Turley, John Innes Centre, UK
Mauricio Contreras (in the center of the picture) posing with his friends after winning the 2023 "Who Wants to Be an (MPMI)llionaire?" contest.
The 2023 winner of "Who Wants to Be an (MPMI)llionaire?", Mauricio Contreras, is a final year Ph.D. student with
Prof. Sophien Kamoun at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK. He is currently studying plant NLR immune receptors, how they activate, and how they are inhibited by plant pathogens. Regarding the gameshow, he said,
It was truly a lot of fun to participate! Never thought I would make it as far as I did! I thought it was a fantastic idea. It motivated everyone to pay close attention to all the plenaries and was a good way to get ECRs some exposure in the MPMI community, in a fun way. It would be a great idea to keep doing this contest in future editions of the congress! Hope it becomes an IS-MPMI tradition! A good dose of healthy competition is nice to spice things up!
Audience participation was key to this event, and we witnessed many emotions during this session that were worth capturing.
Jiameng Lan, a graduate student from the group of
Prof. Zhang at the University of British Columbia, was our audience winner and received an honorary award at the end of the session.
Last but not least, organizing this session was absolutely fun, but at the same time, it provided me with the opportunity to learn about the latest scientific endeavors of prominent researchers in the field and interact with them closely. I also understood the diligent complexities of organizing a congress involving a large number of participants and that time is a crucial factor. One of the biggest fears that I had to overcome while conducting this session was public speaking; however, with the encouragement I received from my mentor,
Prof. Roger Innes, and lab friends, I was able to do it with utmost confidence. I wish to continue contributing to the MPMI community in different ways, and with this, I am happy to do knowledge transfer to interested individuals who wish to conduct this session in future meetings. "I hope that what began as a simple concept to engage participants in a lighthearted competition will bloom into a cherished tradition, enriching the congress experience for all attendees in future meetings."
Kudos to the 2023 (MPMI)llionaire organizing team—Lucia Borniego, Brian Rutter, Megha Sampangiramaiah, Suchismita Ghosh, Alexandra Margets, Benjamin Koch, Tyler Frailie, and Youhuang Xiang!
I am a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Prof. Roger Innes at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. My current research focus is to characterize and elucidate the role of extracellular RNAs and proteins in the context of plant–microbe interactions. I am deeply passionate about science communication and enjoy organizing fun and engaging activities, such as "Who Wants to Be an (MPMI)llionaire?".