ENABLE Conference…

…by Chiara / from Austria / PhD Neuroscience 2016-2019

From the 14th to the 17th November, I attended the 1st European PhD and Postdoc Symposium, organized by the ENABLE network. As the title suggests, this conference was specifically targeted at young researchers and was the first of – for now – four conferences taking part in participating cities all over Europe from 2017 until 2020.

ENABLE stands for European Academy of Biomedical Science, and the ENABLE conference series was brought to life through a collaboration of four European Institutes: the Institute for Biomedicine (IRB) in Barcelona, the Radboud Institute for Molecular Life Sciences (RIMLS) in Nijmegen, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Protein Research (NNF CPR) in Copenhagen and the European School of Molecular Medicine (SEMM) in Milan. The home towns of these instutites are also the conference locations for the next four years, and the conferences are organized by student volunteers. After this first symposium, partially funded by the Horizon 2020 scheme of the European Commission, we all agreed that the organizing committee did a splendid job!

This first symposium took part in Barcelona and I was able to attend thanks to a travel grant awarded to me by the FEBS journal in coordination with the ENABLE network. The fact that I was also selected to present a poster and I had never visited Barcelona made the situation even more exciting. The weather was truly amazing the whole time I was there: between 16-20 degrees celsius, and that in the middle of November. Needless to say, I took my summer clothing with me as these are temperatures of the scottish summer, and I wore them despite Spanish people shaking their heads at me and tucked away in anoraks…

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The symposium was titled “Breaking down complexity: innovative models in biomedicine”, and while it officially started on the 15th of November, a career day took part the day before. Although I aim to pursue an academic career and am eyeing up post-doc positions after I finish my PhD, I really enjoyed the career day as I think it is important to inform yourself of what your options are. It involved short presentations by company representatives to show what they’re all about, and in the afternoon, a career fair took part with the opportunity to converse in more detail. Apart from that, our conference bag also included a brochure with currently open positions both in Academia and Industry.

On the 15th, the conference kicked off with a talk by Prof. Martin Hanczyc from the University of Trento, presenting his ‘proto cell’ model and creating moving droplets. I also found a TED talk by him, and some enjoyable youtube videos of moving droplets. Other keynote speakers included Prof. Elaine Fuchs from Rockefeller University (New York), infecting us with her enthusiasm about the skin, and Prof. Christian Brander from the IrsiCaixa institute, telling us why it is difficult to generate vaccines against HIV and how we might overcome these problems (I loved virology in my undergrad and still do, so that was a nice re-introduction to it). Overall, the programme was very wide-spread which sometimes made the short talks by PhD students and postdocs difficult as people from very broad range of backgrounds attended, but it was an interesting conference nonetheless.

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The true value of the conference, however, I believe was in the networking, exchange of ideas between attendees (and attendees and speakers), and many extra activites offered as part of the conference. I particularly enjoyed a masterclass introducing the problems that can arise with single cell sequencing analysis (a technique I will be using in the upcoming year) and how to over come them. This was sadly only an hour long, but I learned much from the intimate setting and the presenter, Dr. Camille Stephan-Otto Attolini (head of the bioinformatics core at the IRB in Barcelona), explained the pitfalls and how to circumvent them on a real-life example she had worked on. We had vivid discussions throughout the masterclass. As a known friend friend of public engagement, I also liked the microtalks targeted at a lay audience which took place in bars spread through Barcelona. In an interactive time-management and goal setting workshop by HFP consulting, I learned new tricks and had a lot of fun with my fellow workshop mates (e.g. “What is your problem with time management?” – “Time management”) Plus, Tapas with the speakers were a fantastic opportunity to network in a relaxed atmosphere.

Personally, I gained new motivation through talking to my peers which struggle with the same problems but also share the same passion for science and uncovering new things. The conference overall was a great success, and I can recommend any young researcher who is in a phase of orientation in this ever-changing field to attend. By the way, next year’s conference will be taking place in Copenhagen.


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