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The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology

Cet article est une traduction de :
Le Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en biologie

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Source: La lettre, no. 38, June 2014

Texte intégral

1The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology, CIRB, is a joint research unit under the supervisory authority of the Collège de France, Inserm and the CNRS.

It was born out of the desire to create a dynamic and attractive research environment on the Collège de France Marcelin-Berthelot site. Following the opening of new spaces dedicated to research and with the implementation of governance prefiguring the creation of the CIRB in 2009, it was impossible to ignore the need to attract teams capable of carrying out high-level research in biology on the Marcelin-Berthelot site.

2The organizing principles of the CIRB, which now counts eighteen teams [in 2013 / 2014], are the following. With the exception of the teams headed by Chairholders and a limited number of Chair teams, the teams are recruited through international calls for projects submitted to an international scientific committee. These calls are either open to all disciplines, or are thematic if this kind of project is deemed appropriate within the framework of the centre’s scientific policy. A junior researcher working at the centre can become team leader, provided that the change of status has been approved by an international scientific committee or has undergone an international evaluation.

3A call for projects generally receives about forty applications, ten of which are selected by existing team leaders for an interview by the scientific committee. While interviews, which take the form of seminars, are open to all CIRB members, only members of the committee are involved in the ranking of the projects. The committee provides a short list to the head of the centre who recruits two to three projects for each call for proposals. The selection of the teams must be approved by the Faculty, which therefore has full visibility into the research in biology carried out at the Collège de France. The recruited teams are (and must remain) limited in size (they comprise fewer than ten people), with leaders under the age of forty at the time of their recruitment, even though exceptions sometimes need to be made. They are recruited for a four-year residency, which can be renewed once. The team leaders’ youth and the teams’ research outcomes during their time at the Collège de France are intended to facilitate outgoing teams’ integration into other research centres.

Examples of images obtained in fluorescence microscopy, Prof. Alain Prochiantz’s team (photomontage: France Maloumian)

4For attracting very high-level junior researchers, who are necessarily courted by other research centres at the national or international levels, the Collège de France offer needs to be competitive.This means that the team must have total scientific independence, access to state-of-the-art technological tools and to all the resources traditionally made available to Chairs, particularly the temporary teaching and research assistant (ATER) and lecturer positions, as well as the possibility of organizing meetings and symposia on the Marcelin-Berthelot site. As regards the CIRB itself, it has to operate democratically, and this is ensured by a committee of team leaders, which deliberates and votes on all aspects of its scientific policy. A laboratory committee has been set up to intervene in an advisory capacity on the policy implemented by a board comprised of the director, the deputy director and the administrative secretary of the CIRB.

5As noted above, the CIRB is currently comprised of eighteen independent teams, bringing together about two hundred people (half on fixed-term contracts, mainly students and post-docs) working in different fields of biology. At present, the fields covered are cancer research, neurosciences, infectious diseases, cardiovascular research, developmental and regeneration biology, cellular biology and mathematical modelling. While this diversity is an asset, interdisciplinary interaction must be facilitated by various means. These include:

6• holding regular seminars to which external colleagues are invited;

7• organizing a weekly presentation by students and post-docs of their work, in English, to the centre’s researchers, engineers, and technicians;

8• holding a monthly meeting during which a team leader presents his/her team’s work to the other team leaders;

9• organizing a retreat for all students and post-doc every two years (two of which have already taken place). A retreat for all staff (also every two years) is planned. On a financial level, the CIRB pools 25% of the recurrent grants from the Collège de France, the Inserm and the CNRS, which represents about €950k. The remaining 75% are shared between the teams, according to their scientific discipline and size. The teams are also funded through research contracts for about 75% of their running expenses and 50% of their consolidated budget. These contracts are managed by team leaders and the practical aspects of this management are dealt with by the CIRB’s general secretary and its administrative team. The running costs of the technological platforms (imaging, animal houses, and histology for the most part) are met by the teams according to their use thereof, under the control of platform managers and committees. The team committee votes on shared expenses at two meetings, the one in January and the other in June. An additional deduction from the teams’ budgets may be voted on in June of each year.

10 The CIRB is located on the Marcelin-Berthelot site, and its policy takes into account the presence or arrival of the physics and chemistry laboratories. The CIRB directorship wishes to develop strong interactions with these other experimental sciences. One way of doing so is by recruiting teams working at the interfaces of these three disciplines, as is the case of mathematics, through the recruitment of two teams of mathematicians interested in biology, and by welcoming Prof. Gérard Berry, Chair of Algorithms, Machines and Languages, within the premises of the CIRB.

11Apart from these interactions taking place at the Collège de France, the CIRB fosters close relations with the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève centres and institutes. An important practical modality of these relations is the existence of a laboratory for excellence (Labex Memolife), which brings together the CIRB teams, those of the École Normale Supérieure Institute of Biology, and three ESPCI ParisTech teams. In addition to a joint retreat for the Labex team leaders, these relations involve staff funding (post-docs, welcoming foreign students and fourth-year PhDs), the purchase of shared equipment, and sharing certain technological platforms. The CIRB was thus spared the expense of setting up proteomic and functional genomic platforms. Still within the framework of excellence initiatives, CIRB teams have access to the calls for projects put out by PSL to fund joint work by teams of distinct research centres, mainly – for biology – the Collège de France, the Institut Curie, the École Normale Supérieure and the ESPCI ParisTech. In concrete terms, together this Labex and PSL funding represents an annual consolidated budget of about €350k for CIRB teams.

12As director of the CIRB, I am fully aware of the change in governance that the appearance of this new research structure on the Marcelin-Berthelot site has represented and still represents. We embarked on this path with the former Administrator
Prof. Pierre Corvol because it was required by the need to develop research in biology at the Collège de France on a par with the facilities made available thanks to Prof. Jacques Glowinski’s personal and passionate engagement, and to the intellectual aura of the Collège de France. While the first steps – the CIRB officially opened in January 2011 – have been promising, nothing is definitively achieved and we need to maintain our efforts, particularly during a period made very difficult by the budgetary restrictions affecting fundamental research.

13The CIRB teams and I are optimistic, however; not only because we are still relatively privileged compared to other institutions, but also because the CIRB’s policy corresponds to the Collège de France’s more general policy. We thus benefit from the help and support of the Direction Générale des Services (General Services Division) and its specialized administrative and technical departments. I would therefore like to conclude this brief presentation of the CIRB by thanking all Collège de France staff, whose commitment and competence we appreciate every day.

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Table des illustrations

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Légende Examples of images obtained in fluorescence microscopy, Prof. Alain Prochiantz’s team (photomontage: France Maloumian)
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Référence électronique

Alain PROCHIANTZ, « The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 25 septembre 2015, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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