And then the science started! Luckily my jetlag was getting better, because the programme of this conference was set to fit as much science as possible in a couple of days. There were talks and keynote lectures from 9:00 to 17:00, followed by dinner and poster presentations from 19:30-22:30. Talks were organised in themed sessions, covering subjects such as axon and dendrite targeting, synapse development, circuit wiring, and axon regeneration and plasticity. The nice aspect of this conference is that not only the PI’s are presenting, but also many graduate students and postdocs got the opportunity to talk about their research. All the talks were scheduled in one plenary auditorium, so there were no parallel sessions, and they lasted 15 minutes which is just right for your attention span. I was truly amazed and also impressed by the quality of these talks and the cool techniques that were described, such as the development of photoswitchable kinases that regulateendogenous protein activity and can be used to modulate spine formation and maturation.
Each day there was also one keynote speaker. In particular the keynote of Michael Greenberg, whose lab discovered Fos as a molecular marker of neuronal activity, stood out for me. Fos, or ‘Faws’ as Micheal pronounced it with his heavy Boston accent, is known to so many of us neuroscientists that you almost forget that there was ever a pre-Fos time. In this lecture he talked about how cell depolarization triggers the immediate early gene Fos and showed that this process is imperative for the reliable activity of the famous hippocampal place cells. Another keynote lecture was given by Alex Kolodkin, who described the first Semaphorin molecule as a respulsive guidance cue in the grasshopper embryo. Since then, dozens more Semaphorins have been discovered, one of which I am currently studying.
What is special about smaller conferences like this one - there were about 200 attendees this year – is that we all share a similar interest. This was also very noticeable during the poster sessions, which were very lively and full of discussions. At first I was a bit hesitant about three-hour long poster sessions in the late evening, but actually this was the most fun poster presentation I have ever done. I really enjoyed discussing my own work with so many people, but also many of the other posters were interesting and sometimes even useful for my own experiments.
However, during lunch and in the evenings there was also time to socialize. Since Cold Spring Harbor is located near the sea, as the name already implies, there is plenty of seafood. On the last evening it is therefore tradition to have cocktails and a lobster dinner, during which everyone is treated with a complete lobster and all the necessary lobster-eating tools, jumm… I have gotten quite competent with dissections over the years, but nonethelessdissecting the lobster turned out to be pretty difficult. After the lobsters were (attempted to be) eaten, the evening was closed off at the bar. After all, networking is important right! The next morning everyone got ready for the last few talks and after lunch the meeting was officially finished. For me it was obviously the first visit, but many of the PI’s were telling me that they have been coming here every meeting since the first time it was organized in 1998 (meaning that they have been to 13 of these meetings!). It is a nice way for them to catch up with old friends, talk science and see where the field is going in a very accessible setting. People said goodbye, but I am sure most of them will see each other again in September 2024 for their 14th Mechanisms of Neuronal Connectivity Meeting.
The attached document contains Werner's report (and a poem) on his visit to this Gordon Research Conference
KEYWORDS balance, PhD, success
1 | INTRODUCTION
As a young scientist, gradually becoming more mature, I have been realizing that too many of us today are forced to reckon with constant obstacles that hinder our path for success. In this time, I have met very few fellow PhD students who have not remotely considered neglecting a scientific career, especially in Academia. Too many are asked to prioritize work, to meet insane deadlines, or to follow crazy schedules. Several are compelled to be versatile at all times: better writers, better thinkers, better communicators, and better doers. Many of us are forced to juggle between endless hours in the lab and to generate new solutions to emerging, difficult scientific problems while coping with constant peer pressure, keeping track of novel research, and navigating through the process of finding what type of scientist we want to be.
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