Society for Neuroscience Conference- Lauren Kennedy

Name: Lauren Kennedy

Role: Doctoral Student

Program: Translational Biology, Medicine and Health

Meeting: Society for Neuroscience Conference (2015)

Everyone involved in neuroscience research knows about Society for Neuroscience.  Its expansive annual conference allows scientists from around the world to congregate and share their research with others in their field.  Research talks and lectures are amazing, but let’s not overlook the opportunity for professional development.  At an event bringing in over 30,000 neuroscientists, smaller scale workshops become extremely valuable.  At SfN this year, such professional development workshops spanned a variety of topics, including internationalizing your research and training, and science blogging, to name a few.  These events are tremendously helpful in facilitating networking and providing valuable insight that simply cannot be obtained by attending lectures and symposia.

Something we can probably all appreciate is the value of experiencing other cultures in terms of personal growth, but international experiences can also powerfully contribute to professional goals and advancement.  The panelists at the workshop focusing on internationalizing your research and training shared personal stories about their experiences, and importantly, offered advice with reference to mistakes they made and how students and postdocs now should go about the process in order to avoid those same mistakes.  One of the panelists was an NIH program officer who shared less about her own experiences, but more about the opportunities available to audience members.  While this workshop was certainly informative and valuable, most of the information was geared towards those members in the audience who were from another country and interested in getting training in the U.S.  So, as a U.S. citizen, this was a bit peripheral, but at the same time, was still applicable in terms of opportunities emphasized by the program officer.  The most powerful and worthwhile component of this workshop in my opinion, was the structure, which allowed for a question-and-answer session, as well as the option to meet with the panelists.  This chance to meet with these panelists in a small group setting, and even one-on-one, is a perfect example of the way such workshops often actively facilitate networking.

At the science blogging workshop, attendees got to hear about the wonderful benefits of blogging about science, as well as what to look out for when taking it up on your own.  The unique and most valuable piece of this workshop was the diverse backgrounds of the panelists.  All of the panelists who spoke had PhDs in the field, but the extent of their blogging, along with their goals and purpose in doing so, was vastly different.  Thus, not only did attendees learn about the benefits and caveats of science blogging, but we heard about the degree of each of these within certain realms.  While two of the panelists were PIs with large labs, one of these panelists used their blog to popularize science in general, while the other used hers to promote her lab and get her students more involved in their own work.  Another panelist blogged for a number of companies purely to make neuroscience understandable and accessible to the public, but also blogged for himself in order to promote his own books.  Finally, the remaining panelist was formerly in academia and after finishing her postdoc, decided to give up research and focus full-time on science blogging.  The benefit of hearing these various perspectives is that it became very clear that anyone could approach this to either supplement their career and research, or transition into full-time outreach through science blogging.  While it was inspirational and informative, this workshop really was geared towards those who have an interest in promoting science to the public through a blog platform.  Reading the description of the workshop before simply attending it is extremely beneficial in order to get the most out of the conference events.

These are just two examples from a long list of professional development workshops that were offered at SfN this year.  Aside from these workshops, there were countless symposia and lectures held that presented with varying degrees of networking potential, and each had their strengths and weaknesses.  After experiencing this whirlwind of events myself, the best advice I can put forth to others interested in such an extensive conference is to intentionally and thoughtfully pace yourself, but at the same time to be sure to experience the breadth of what is offered.  The potential to learn in an intellectual and professional way at any conference so encompassing and inclusive cannot be understated, so take advantage of it!