Society for Neuroscience 2019
The largest neuroscience conference in the world: Society for Neuroscience (SfN). The year 2019 was my first year in attendance where I found myself in the presence of approximately 30,000 other neuroscientists roaming the streets of Chicago! I already knew, just by the smooth flight, that this SfN experience was going to be one of my best adventures yet.
Traveling to SfN was the Agnes Scott College neuroscience team, comprised of the Larimore Lab and the Dutton Lab, which have since merged into the Larimore & Dutton Lab. Never before had I been to Chicago and I was elated to share this experience with those I admired most, including my roommate who had recently joined the Larimore Lab. Fun fact: my roommate and I have lived together since freshman year (probably the only ones in our class to remain roomies for that long), so exploring the conference center and presenting with her provided a much needed element of familiarity for my first SfN conference.
My lab mates (which included my roomie) and I were scheduled for poster presentations on the second day, so we took every opportunity to explore the conference center, support our other lab mates who were scheduled to present their posters on the first day, and, much to my surprise, invite researchers to pay our poster a visit during our presentation time. After all, SfN is the perfect opportunity to network and garner the attention of PIs whose research I might be interested in for graduate school. This thought never really crossed my mind until my PI made it apparent. I suppose on the flight to Chicago and during the majority of SfN-Day 1, I had been fixated on giving a stellar presentation to anyone who stopped by our poster as the thought of presenting was where the bulk of my nerves were stemming from. However, I never gave it much thought that maybe there won’t be anyone to present to if I don’t reach out to a particular audience. So, when my PI encouraged us to do a bit of research to see which labs where present at SfN, I scrambled to get to work. I rushed back to our hotel room and wrote as many emails as I could within a one hour timeframe as to not be late for an upcoming mini lab meeting.
You won’t know if you don’t try.
Writing cold emails to world-renowned researchers… daunting to say the least. Fortunately, though, I learned that people are very much willing to help if you just give them the chance to, especially if you express genuine excitement. After writing a few emails, of course there were some that did not receive any responses, but the ones that did have a response turned my SfN adventure into one of the most fruitful opportunities I have ever experienced. I had the privilege of connecting with a student in the lab of Huda Zoghbi, a genetic neurologist from Baylor College of Medicine whose work helped elucidate the mechanisms of Rett syndrome and spinocerebellar ataxia type 1. An entire lab from Washington University in St. Louis whose work includes investigating DNA methylation and MeCP2 paid a visit to our poster and subsequently invited us to their poster. I also had the privilege of meeting Laura Mamounas, the Program Director in the Neurogenetics Cluster at the NINDS whose areas of interest include neurodevelopment, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Rett syndrome. Dr. Mamounas was incredibly influential in my eventual fellowship through the University of Michigan-SMART Program as she provided me with a number of programs to apply to for MD/PhD aspirants like myself.
At the end of my presentation day, I was exhausted, but in the best way possible! I was so proud of my lab mates and all of the hard work we had been putting into our research back home in our little Decatur, Georgia lab. The worst part about leaving your comfort zone is the lack of comfortability and the best part are the opportunities that can arise.
We ended up spending the rest of our time visiting other posters, attending the graduate fair, and admiring the architecture of Chicago buildings on our outings. I can’t wait to see what my next SfN conference will bring!