Lessons from the Young Life Scientists’ symposium

As the lab settles back into normal life after organising the Young Life Scientists’ symposium, Chris takes a look back at Neuroscience of Energy Balance 2019.

By Chris Cook

One of the driving forces behind us organising Neuroscience of Energy Balance 2019 was a lack of alternative meetings focused on this topic. Whilst it can be interesting to broaden your horizons at conferences, sometimes you just long to settle into a set of talks that are directly relevant to your own research. For me, this was what made NEB2019 so unique: we had a room full of over 60 Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from around the UK and abroad, all from the same field. Providing this kind of environment encouraged so much more interaction between attendees regardless of their level. We were also thrilled by the level of engagement from those who attended, from undergraduates through to senior post-docs.

We had 7 ECR talks excellently delivered by a mix of PhD students and PostDocs, from 6 institutions across the UK. Together they took us on a whistle-stop tour of our collective field of research. We began the day hearing about neuronal control of glycaemia, the effects of maternal obesity on offspring metabolism and the control of torpor. We ended the day learning about the brain’s role in cancer therapy-induced anorexia, after stops along the way to discover how sleep and thermoregulation are linked to energy balance, and which regions of the brain are responsible for dietary choice. For me, I think the biggest indicator of the quality of the talks was that we still had a full room for our last talk at 5pm! The science was high-level, with some incredible cutting-edge techniques on show but there was something there for everyone to understand. I’m sure some of the undergraduates will have got lost at various points (I mean, I did on occasion and I’ve been in the field for 5 years!) but hopefully, something will have grabbed their interest. It would be nice to imagine that our event helped someone decide what they want their own research to focus on one day.

Complementing our ECR speakers were more established researchers: a senior postdoc from the University of Manchester, a junior fellow from King’s College and a Principle Investigator from the University of Cambridge. We had selected them based on our own experiences with them, and their reputations for being approachable. As expected, they didn’t disappoint! Not only were their talks fascinating, but they were also helped out with our careers session as well. Providing their insights into academia, and helping to show that there are many different paths to ‘making it’. It was great to see them also taking an interest in the posters as well. There was a great array from such a diverse group of ECRs and PhD students from Japan and Nigeria, interspersed with researchers from across the UK – many with affiliations to Universities across Europe. Maybe I’m a little biased but I’d like to think it was a great reflection of the neuroendocrinology field!

Would I do it all again?

Absolutely! For me, it was a great experience and an opportunity to see the other side of conferences. One of my main concerns (or more accurately, my supervisor’s!) was the amount of time I thought it would take up, but in reality I overestimated this greatly. I won’t pretend it isn’t an involved process, and that there are times where it gets pretty hectic, but for the most part it wasn’t overly stressful due to good planning. There are a few key decisions that need making early on and the last few weeks are busy, but most of the time in between was waiting to see if people would actually register (ok that’s pretty stressful…but not that time-consuming)!

From a personal perspective, I think it has been an excellent addition to my CV. Most of the skills required to organise the event are things that we already do on a day-to-day basis, but applying them to a new situation is always useful: the ability to plan and stick to a schedule, handle budgets, apply for funding and communicate with many people with different interests in the event.

Since we have held our event, we have been able to give advice to another group at the University that have now decided to run their own symposium, as well as some other early career researchers that have decided to apply to the Young Life Scientists’ scheme for next year’s event. It’s great to think we are able to encourage others to give it a go. I will definitely be more inclined to attend these smaller meetings in future, as I think they represent brilliant opportunities for discussion and collaboration, particularly for less well-known researchers.

Teams of Early Career researchers can apply to organise a symposium on a scientific theme and format of their choice. The Biochemical Society, The Physiological Society and the British Pharmacological Society are now accepting applications for 2020! Find out more here.

About the author:

I’ve been a member of the Luckman lab for almost 6 years now, having joined as a fresh-faced PhD student. Now, as a battle-weary postdoc, my BBSRC-funded research focuses on the role of the neuropeptide, QRFP, in feeding, metabolism and wakefulness. Away from the lab, I can usually be found playing hockey or at a pub quiz, or drinking wine…to the detriment of my other hobbies!

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