Over the course of a PhD, students are encouraged to leave the lab from time to time to go to conferences to learn about other kinds of research going on in their field. Science conferences gather researchers from academia and industry. In this post I will talk about the different conferences I went to in the second year of my PhD in 2018 and what I learned from them.
January – Genome Stability Network Meeting, Cambridge
The Genome Stability Network is a group of scientists interested in learning about how the DNA in our cells is damaged and repaired, usually with the aim of utilising these processes to treat cancer. At the start of 2018 I attended the annual meeting of the GSN and heard a lot of talks about different aspects of DNA damage and repair processes.
While I’m pretty sure I was the only chemist in the room – a lot of this work is carried out by biologists establishing the pathways by which these processes take place in cells – it was useful to see what themes emerged across the few talks.
March – Mastering Medicinal Chemistry, Glasgow
I had the opportunity to go back to my old university, University of Strathclyde, where I completed my undergraduate MChem degree for a medicinal chemistry conference aimed at early-career researchers. The talks covered a whole range of disease areas and approaches and I also took a poster summarising my own research to talk to people about during the coffee breaks.
I learned about new unconventional ways of finding starting point molecules (“hits”) to start new drug discovery projects, as well as hear from someone from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca about a project similar to my own. It was useful to exchange ideas with the speaker to help my own project.
There was also a panel where the speakers were asked about their outlook on the future of the drug discovery industry, which I sadly learned was sounding bleak on all fronts. RxNet asked me to write a more detailed conference report which can be found here.
May – Kinase 2018, Cambridge
The first two conferences were relatively general in their subject matter. In May I returned to chemistry for a much more focused meeting around kinases.
Kinases are signalling proteins (enzymes that tell a cell to do something) and are implicated in many diseases, particularly cancer. There are 516 kinases in humans so there are lots of opportunities to target them in different ways to treat patients.
I learned a lot about the different disease areas kinases are being targeted for as well as what the trendy kinases were that a lot of researchers seem to be looking at just now.
At this conference I got the opportunity to give a 2 minute, single-slide “flash presentation” about the poster I had brought. While having such a small amount of time to sell my research was challenging, I noticed a huge difference between the number of people who came over to my poster to chat to me afterwards.
If you’re attending a conference and are nervous about applying for such a slot I highly recommend it, it’s over in a flash and resulted in many more useful conversations about my work than if I hadn’t done it.
December – Chemical Probes in Systems Biology, London
At the end of the year I popped up to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s headquarters at Burlington House to attend the smallest of the conferences I have been to. There were roughly 50 people present and was very relevant to my project – the title conference alone would work as a thesis title for my project.
I’ve found it encouraging to note over the course of the last couple of years I’ve become familiar with “names” and institutions in my field. The first talk was by someone from the institute I collaborate with on my project and another speaker was someone I had previously applied to do a PhD with.
I had applied to speak at this conference but my application was unsuccessful. I was still able to take a poster and the collaborator I mentioned gave me some useful insight about some data I had been waiting a while for regarding my project.
Hopefully I will get to speak about my PhD at a conference in my third year – and it would be especially nice to get to travel abroad to a conference.
Have you been able to travel anywhere exotic for conferences in your line of work? Were they useful to attend? Have you ever given a flash presentation before? Let me know in the comments below.