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A meeting of young minds

Discussing a poster (Credit: Eliot Bradshaw)

Delegates deep in discussion over a poster (Copyright: Eliot Bradshaw)

PhD student Kathryn Bowles is researching the role of cell signalling in Huntington’s disease at the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University. Frustrated by a lack of opportunity to get together and discuss neurodegenerative research with other early-career researchers, she took matters into her own hands and organised a symposium of her own.

As a student pipetting my way through the second year of my PhD, why on earth would I decide it’s a good idea to hold a national symposium for other early-careerscientists? To plump up my CV? To practise my already-impressive ‘to do’ list writing skills?

Admittedly, both of those were a factor. Most importantly though, I thought it was something that young scientists needed. Most conferences we go to are dominated by our supervisors and star ‘names’ in the field. We could do with the chance to discuss our work with our peers, without the intimidation of more senior scientists.

Young Life Scientist (YLS) Symposia are hosted every year by the Biochemical Society, and students are invited to submit proposals to organise and hold a day-long event. Once a proposal is accepted, the Biochemical Society gives you and your committee some start-up funds, and the rest is truly up to you. A few months, hundreds of e-mails and a good number of ‘to do’ lists later, and we had organised ourselves a symposium!

There are so many approaches to researching neurodegenerative diseases and, as I have progressed through my PhD, it has become more and more obvious to me that no single way of doing things will ever unravel these complicated diseases. We need to take an integrative approach to our work, and that’s what I wanted to achieve with the symposium. I wanted molecular biologists to see how their work on proteins and DNA impacts work in the clinic with patients, and vice versa (plus every step in between).

Presenting posters (Credit: Eliot Bradshaw)

Kathryn (centre in grey top) judging the poster competition (Copyright: Eliot Bradshaw)

The plan was to inspire new ideas and collaborations between young scientists who, given a few years, could well be the next ‘names.’ By seeing our work in the context of a patient with a disease, and not just as a scientific report within our field, we might be able to drive our understanding forward, and come closer to developing treatments.

We got some excellent feedback and there weren’t any obvious disasters so I think the symposium was a success. It’s early days yet, but a growing Facebook group allowing the delegates to keep in touch is a step in the right direction for collaborations. I would love to make this an annual event, and support from so many sources, including patient organisations such as Parkinson’s UK and the Huntington’s Disease Association, shows that this kind of meeting of young minds is welcome and encouraged.

I strongly urge any other early-career researcher to hold their own symposium — it’s a lot of work, but it’s incredibly rewarding to get your peers together to discuss the research you are all passionate about. As for me, with a thesis looming, I will have to concentrate my efforts on a different kind of ‘to do’ list next year, but I’m keeping my post-its handy for the years that follow.

Kathryn Bowles

The MRC part-funded the symposium. The Biochemical Society is accepting applications for the 2013 symposia until 16 November 2012. Kathryn is completing a  four-year Wellcome Trust studentship in integrative neuroscience.

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