I began my day on November 10, 2017 with a doctor’s appointment. I needed to be cleared to get on the airplane to SFN 2017 because I was 8 months pregnant. I was cleared and I had a great conference. I was busy but relaxed. I made it to the sessions I needed to get to, and did not worry about the rest. I was an official blogger, I led a professional development workshop on science communication and I presented my research as a dynamic poster. In between, I caught up with my friends, connected with the new neuroscientists from my undergraduate university (University of Scranton) and made new connections for both my current research project and my career plans. Continue reading
Society For Neuroscience 2017 Annual Meeting Reflection: blogger, workshop leader and scientific presenter
In February 2018, I attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. I presented my dissertation research as a poster in the new E-poster format and spent a ton of time networking and learning about science communication.
I was awarded the Helen F. Holt Scholarship for Young Women in Science to pay my travel expenses for the meeting. The award breakfast where my award was presented was the highlight of the meeting. I got to hear my own accomplishments read out by Rush Holt himself, and for the first time I realized just how much I have managed to accomplish in graduate school.
I presented my poster as an E-poster, a new format this year for the AAAS meeting. Essentially, we submitted a PDF version of our poster to them and presented it on an 80 inch monitor. Good news: no poster tube in the airport! Bad news: the resolution is still only 1920×1080, so be careful with your text and line sizes. To present our poster, we arrived at one of several “pods” in the exhibit hall and waited our turn. Each presenter got 5 minutes – 3 minutes to present the poster and 2 minutes for questions. Judges sat in front of the poster and interested people milled about the poster area. I enjoyed presenting for judges and the opportunity to win a poster award, but I also felt that many people who wanted to see my poster did not get a chance. Although the posters were available for viewing in the annual meeting app, I don’t know anyone who used this feature. That meant that about 15 people saw my poster for 5 minutes, and anyone else who might have been interested missed it. However, the future of this format is promising. Perhaps by lengthening the time a presenter stands by their poster and making the posters more obvious in the app, we could strike a good balance between efficiency and effectiveness.
I enjoyed Austin, Texas, a new city for me. The bar scene on Rainey Street is adorable and fun. I played Cornhole in what felt like someone’s backyard with some fellow Friends of Joe’s Big Idea (FOJBIs). I had a chance to catch up with a long time friend and mentor who introduced me to some fabulous Tex-Mex food. I’d love to go back for a vacation!
As graduate school admissions season ramps up and I near the end of my tenure as a graduate student, I find myself reflecting on my experience and offering advice to the undergraduates and early stage graduate students around me. A few key points stick out as reasons why I have been successful so far.
In that vein, here’s a few words of advice from a sage old graduate student…
- Find an adviser who shares your values. If you care about outreach to K-12 students, make sure your adviser does too. If you want to be the next HHMI investigator at Harvard, make sure your adviser can help you get there. If you feel strongly that research should be published in pre-prints and open access journals, make sure your adviser does too.
- Remember that you are a student first. You are in graduate school to further your own career, not your adviser’s. Work hard on your research, but make time for professional development activities that will help you build the skills you need to succeed after graduating.
- Develop a hobby. I am in a band. My sister is a powerlifter. We both have dogs. This helps me balance my time and remember that there’s more to life than my research. On a daily basis, research often fails. My dog doesn’t care. He’s happy to see me no matter what. Even if my experiments aren’t working, I can see improvement in my clarinet playing.
- Practice communicating your science as often as possible. Take as many opportunities as you can to talk about your research and why it matters, both formally and informally. Give talks, write blogs, present to your colleagues and people who haven’t taken a science class since high school. Being able to explain what you do and why anyone should care is a valuable skill, no matter what you do after graduate school, and it requires practice.
- Keep track of the things you do. Every day you are developing transferable skills, leadership skills, project management skills and communication skills. Make sure you keep a list (and not just a CV) of what you have done, what you learned and why it mattered. That way, when you apply for fellowships or jobs, you have half the work done already.
Graduate school can be stressful. Completing a PhD is a long and difficult journey. But, you are developing skills in a variety of ways beyond the specifics of your research. You organize your project, collaborate with people and talk about your research because you need to in order to graduate. These activities help you build skills that are marketable both inside and outside academia. Seek opportunities and be open minded about your future.
In April 2017, I visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the third time to attend the Wiring the Brain conference. It was a small conference – around 150 people. We spent 4 days listening to talks, seeing posters and eating all of our meals together. I made some good friends by happenstance. We created a table of “orphans” at the first meal. We had all come to the meeting alone, rooming with a stranger and assuming we would find people to talk to at the meeting. We certainly did! A small meeting with meals included facilitates making new friends; I highly recommend them to any scientist, especially graduate students.
In addition to real life conversations, I also joined the Twitter conversation for the meeting with the hashtag #cshlwtb. We were not highly active on social media at the conference, but we had fun. I have compiled our activity into a Storify story to convey the real time conversations and connections we made.
I particularly enjoyed using social media as a way to interact with speakers and conference organizers. 150 people may not seem like much, but it’s enough that any individual person will not have much face to face time with a particular organizer. On social media, though, I could talk to everyone asynchronously. I plan to use a similar strategy at the 30,000 attendee Society for Neuroscience meeting in the future.
Questions about my experience or the science we discussed? Use my contact form!
At the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in November 2016, I met a wonderful group of people at My Green Lab. They are a nonprofit who help scientists and scientific facilities managers conduct science in a more sustainable way, from lower energy usage freezers to improved waste management. Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab, and I bonded over our love of Meeting Street Cafe cookies, and talked a little about sustainability in science. I didn’t win the sustainability t-shirt, though (sad face).
Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Rescuing Biomedical Research Writing Program. In this program, I wrote 2 blog posts for their blog. Here, the audience is people who care and know a decent amount about science policy issues. This was unfamiliar territory for me. Could I, someone whose writing experience was limited to the general public, get the hand of this audience? I struggled, but I successfully published an article on the grant resubmission process at the NIH and a second article on indirect cost payments. Continue reading
In 2015, I joined a group of aspiring science communicators led by Joe Palca of National Public Radio (NPR). Recently, this group blossomed from a group of people who care about and share interesting science articles to a group that also helps each other write science articles for the public. Over the course of 2 months, a writer progresses from idea to published blog-style post. First, a writer pitches a story and Joe Palca and Maddie Sofia (the Queen of the FOJBIs) help it find an outlet. Then, the writer drafts the article and 3-5 other FOJBIs provide feedback on this draft. After a series of edits, including some from Joe and Maddie, the writer finalizes the post and it’s published.