A guide to organising your first conference

Published: 14 Oct 2019
Category: Young pharmacologists

Despite attending many conferences during our time in academia, the work that goes into organising these events remained a mystery. When the call for proposals for the Young Life Scientists’ (YLS) symposium came out, we thought it would be a great opportunity to see things from the other side. After all, how hard can it be to organise a one-day symposium?!

From the start, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. Our field is relatively niche, so opportunities to present can be hard to come by, especially for Early Career Researchers (ECRs). We wanted to provide a platform for ECRs to be able to share their work with peers, as well as begin to build their own networks and collaborative ideas. This goal aligned perfectly with the mission of the YLS scheme, and so we took the plunge and applied. One of the more interesting parts of the application process was deciding on who we wanted as our guest speakers. Discussing the pros and cons of certain researchers with a view to asking them to come and talk at your own event was a unique experience for us. Admittedly, this isn’t Glastonbury, but it still feels pretty exciting when someone whose research you’ve admired agrees to attend!

The first few weeks were pretty hectic. Many of the key components of a symposium had to be decided upon, and booked as soon as possible: minor details such as a date, a venue and catering for the event! Given that we had already confirmed our preferred speakers, and we were also hosting some of our international industrial collaborators, we ended up having to try and find a date that worked for nine different parties. We eventually found a compromise that suited as many people as possible, and learned a valuable lesson in the process.

By identifying our priorities for the big decisions, it meant that when compromises were inevitable, we knew which options would still allow us to achieve our primary goals.

Since then, we have managed to avoid any major problems (so far)! We did have a slight panic when our original venue was unavailable, until we were informed that the university has a dedicated team to help arrange conferences. Their expertise meant that finding a new venue was straightforward. Since then, we have realised just how much support there is out there if you look for it. Whilst this is a big first event for us, the teams at the university and the supporting societies like the Biochemical Society, British Pharmacological Society and The Physiological Society, have seen this all before. Their support is invaluable, and certainly makes this whole process less daunting.

Obviously, a PhD or postdoc is primarily focused on research of some variety. For us, that means trying to uncover the neuronal circuitry involved in the control of energy homeostasis. Our days are filled with designing and running studies to identify the neuronal populations responsible for hunger, satiety, glucose responsiveness or thermogenesis, and how these come together to regulate normal metabolic function. Organising this symposium is a nice opportunity to step away from this, if only for a short while.

From a personal perspective, it has provided a great way to hone the less “lab-based” skills in a totally new environment. Approaching companies for sponsorship, asking researchers to come and give a talk, or discussing budgets with societies are experiences that don’t tend to crop up on a regular basis. Furthermore, how often do you have five email threads on the go with various parties, all focused on a single event taking place over half a year away? (For some of us it was new to learn that calendars open that far in advance!) PhD and Postdoc roles are about more than becoming the Queen of PCR, or a Western Blot wizard.

The transferable skills are just as important for whatever future career you choose, and organising this symposium has certainly given us the chance to develop our skills outside our research bubbles.

However, from a more research-focused mind-set, this has also been an eye-opening experience. The application process itself got us thinking about our research field as a whole. Why should our topic be selected, and what would be the benefit to ECRs in the field? As researchers, it can be easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your work: the function of a single peptide, receptor, or gene. This process forced us to take a step back and think about what we felt could be improved in our field. For us, this was an apparent lack of opportunities for ECRs to present and discuss research, and network with peers, in an environment that isn’t entirely taken over by senior researchers. For us, the experience has already been a success in helping us develop. All that’s left now is the small matter of making our Neuroscience of Energy Balance 2019 symposium go off without a hitch!

For more information about Neuroscience of Energy Balance 2019, visit our website.
About the authors/organisers:
I’ve been a member of the Luckman lab for almost 6 years now, having joined as a fresh-faced PhD student. Now, as a battle-weary postdoc, my BBSRC-funded research focuses on the role of the neuropeptide, QRFP, in feeding, metabolism and wakefulness. Away from the lab I can usually be found playing hockey or at a pub quiz, or drinking wine…to the detriment of my other hobbies!
Having completed a BSc, MRes and PhD, I am somewhat of a Luckman Lab veteran, with a passion for all things food and a weird ability to memorise antibody ID codes. I am currently an MRC-funded postdoc researching the regulation of food intake, with a particular interest in brainstem neurons. Outside of the lab, I enjoy cooking food, eating food, reading about food, thinking about food… (although, in honesty, I do a lot of the latter in the lab too). I’ve recently discovered a (somewhat unexpected) love of exercise to mitigate all of the above. But if I’m not at a HIIT or yoga class, you’ll find me cooking up a storm in my kitchen or checking out Manchester’s finest foodie hangouts.
I joined the Luckman Lab as a postdoc at the University of Manchester in 2014 after submitting my PhD at the University of Liverpool.  I am currently a co-investigator on a BBSRC grant to investigate the potential role of a population of PrRP-expressing neurones within the ventrolateral medulla in autonomic regulation. In my spare time I mountain bike, climb and spend time pulling up weeds in my allotment, all of which involve trying my hardest to stay upright.
I am a neuroscientist with a multi-disciplinary background in areas like biomarkers, virology and vaccines. After a good few years in industry, I returned to academia to pursue a PhD in Glasgow.  Following my studies, I became a part of the Luckman lab as a postdoc and have been here for the last 5 years. My project focuses on the neuronal regulation of glucose control which I approach using a range of techniques including electrophysiology, chemogenetics/optogenetics and very recently, molecular profiling. My fascination with the brain extends to the mind and fuels my passion for yoga. I also love to travel, read, watch horror films and have long conversations with good friends.

This blog was originally published on the Physiological Society's website.

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