Thursday, 11 April 2013

Heels, Naps and Eek Moments - BNA 2013!

NeuroGirl Kira writes on our first time experience of a conference:

This week the NeuroGirls attended their very first Neuroscience conference hosted in London, UK –the BNA 2013. We thought it may be interesting to dissect our thoughts and experiences of a conference as first-timers. The conference days were packed full of appealing lectures and posters, with so much to see and do that there was barely a minute to spare. The conference was set across a large space, the Barbican centre being a maze in itself. Organisation was key! We found ourselves armed with detailed itineraries to help keep our focus and direction. The topics covered by the BNA conference spanned across the whole of neuroscience, from astrocytes to autism. There were opportunities to attend relevant talks for your own research area; as well as non-relevant areas which appeal to your own personal interests; and even media-coveted topics (such as the talk on the use of psychedelic drugs in depression by Professor David Nutt as commented on by the BBC).  Set in the middle of the all the talks was also the chance to browse posters with the opportunity to network with the poster’s author and discuss research ideas. Whilst this experience may seem daunting to any academically-young PhD student, all of the authors we met were very friendly, helpful and clear. Although as a whole the conference seemed a bit daunting and overwhelming at first (with so many intelligent scientists and detailed research ideas) the overall experience was very valuable and the people very welcoming! 

NeuroGirl Rebecca thinks the best part of the BNA was…  the academic posters:

The sights! The sounds! The colours! And that was just one particularly interesting delegate presenting a poster with flaming red hair and amazing spike heels. The BNA poster sessions were by far my favourite part of the conference. The symposiums were interesting and informative, but quite often, the quality and depth varied vastly from session to session, leaving me floundering in one quarter of a 4-part session and tapping my nails in boredom in the next. The academic posters on the other hand, gave me, as a na├»ve and interested first year, the chance to peer into a wide range of topics, explained to me by some very helpful presenters. My research interests are in thalamocortical spindles and neurovascular coupling and I was lucky enough to also find these well represented at the conference. What impressed me the most however, was how enthusiastic everybody was to talk to me. I spoke with a young and nervous medic, only in his fifth year, who charmingly explained what slow oscillations had to do with declarative memory and naps – I’m now most thoroughly in favour of a mid-afternoon nap, apparently it IS long enough to see a positive correlation with memory performance, something I badly need!  I also spoke with lovely post-docs, seemingly stern group heads and many excellent PhD students all of whom were happy to explain their work and answer all questions that popped irreverently into my head. I would encourage anyone, especially PhD students to go along to the poster sessions, they are absolutely fab for improving your social and networking skills, but also for gaining additional ideas about your own research. I left each session with my head buzzing with new ideas, often ones that had been inspired by a quick chat with someone with a poster seemingly irrelevant to my own work. You never know what you will gain until you step up to that sea of ideas and plunge in!

NeuroGirl Priya gives her take on the BNA experience:

The BNA conference this year held at the Barbican saw the congregation of many neuroscience researchers within the UK and abroad get together and present months of hard work, to the wider neuroscience research community. Having been the first scientific conference I have attended within my PhD, I was very excited to be attending and to be honest had no expectations of how this conference was to be. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the Barbican as it was a very big venue and was completely packed with people - it was really nice to see that the neuroscience community is a big and an inclusive one. My itinerary was jam packed with all the important related lectures and posters I had previously highlighted. Conferences like these offer a great opportunity to be able to talk to a range of people, all of whom I spoke to were so evidently passionate about their research it truly was motivating for a first year to witness this and speaking to authors in person definitely helps in getting a greater understanding of the research carried out. In addition, the variety of lectures and talks meant that I could pick and chose the ones I found most interesting. Similar to the posters, I found going to the talks a good experience and opportunity to understand my field of research better and also think about when I would have to give presentations in the future (eek!).

The BNA was jam packed with things to do and this is congratulatory for all the organisers as they were able to simultaneously carry out poster sessions, lectures, workshops, company stalls as well as have interactive stalls for the general public to be apart of all at the same time and all with minimal glitches. It was evident that months of planning and organising took place prior and with the number of volunteers assisting, it was really nice to see this kind of involvement and importance given to conferences, this definitely makes me feel proud to be a part of the scientific community and the British Neuroscience Association. 

On the flip side, and I think this must be the case for most conferences due to the sheer amount of researchers presenting, it was evident that it became hard to fit everyone in to the timetable and this meant having many activities overlap so there were times were I had to miss out on some things. In addition, this also meant some talks started really early in the day and some talks went on until 8pm. This element of the conference definitely left me drained by the end of the day. A key thing to remember about conferences is that there is usually a plethora of information and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, in my case I found it hard to remember all the new information I was presented with throughout the day as well as taking part in all the networking events added on to the end of each day as well.

The BNA was a great first conference for the Neurogirls as we were able to find and interact with researchers carrying out similar research topics throughout the UK, proving to be an invaluable experience. We also feel that through this conference we have been able to understand and appreciate the research we carry out in the wider context and therefore apply this to our future work. We greatly look forward to attending the next BNA  conference, with more energy and having the privilege to attend similarly interesting talks again, so watch this space neuroscience!