Wanderings in Washington…

…by Joshua / from the United Kingdom / PhD Genetics and Molecular Medicine / 2nd Year

In April this year I was able to attend an ME/CFS conference in Washington, D.C. The trip included two events – a workshop on the first day for early-career researchers in the field (PhDs and postdocs), followed by a two-day conference. Since there are very few ME researchers in the UK, it was great to meet other people in this field from all over the world.

Although incredibly jet lagged (it took me 19 hours to get there, including the stop at Heathrow), I was able to take a look around the city on my first day. D.C. is genuinely one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, and I was lucky enough to catch it at the height of cherry blossom season. I’m told that some people in the US plan entire holidays around seeing the trees in bloom, so it was undoubtedly a privilege to see the city in its full pink and white regalia. I was able to walk the entire length of the National Mall, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, with detours via the White House and Tidal Basin.

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Pictured above is the Thomas Jefferson memorial on the other side of the Tidal Basin, which includes a 19-foot-tall statue of the third US president (unfortunately, since my American girlfriend started playing the “Hamilton” soundtrack, I can’t hear his name without humming “What did I miss?”). I’d highly recommend a walk around the basin, which includes memorials to other American leaders – Martin Luther King Jr and Franklin D. Roosevelt among them.

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All of the memorials and monuments are amazing, but I’ll admit I was somewhat underwhelmed by the White House – it was significantly smaller than I expected. I grew up near a country manor in England which has doubled for it in film, so I suppose I was anticipating something more impressive from the real thing.

Once I’d finished exploring the city centre, and got some actual sleep, the conference started properly. It proved to be very useful – the workshop on the first day was entirely dedicated to providing advice to early career PhDs and post-docs. There were presentations, and we split into groups for roundtable discussions, with senior researchers offering advice and acting as mentors.  A portion of the day was dedicated to helping us organise research projects in the US. I was one of the few international participants at the workshop, but I didn’t see this as a bad thing – knowing a little more about how the US grant system works may prove useful later in my career.

The following two days were for the international conference. I got to see some of the big names in the field present their work, and had to frantically take notes on all of the research relevant to my project. The most useful was seeing the researchers at Stanford University (who did the initial study part of my project is based on) present their unpublished results.

The best thing about these workshops and conferences are the contacts you make, and so many interesting conversations can be had over coffee and dinner. By random coincidence, I was talking about a really interesting paper I had read recently with the person sat next to me, as it seemed to fit his research interests. We quickly realised that I was actually describing a paper he wrote! As I’m referencing it in my own work, he gave me his contact details for further discussion.

Finally after several long, exhausting days, it was time to catch the overnight flight back to London. Unfortunately, I had no time for a break, as I was heading immediately off to a statistics course in Southampton the following week! In a future blog post, I’ll write more about these courses, and how they’ve enabled me travel across the UK and experience a little of student life at other universities.


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