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Organising a Young Life Scientists’ Symposium

Published: 13 Mar 2019
Category: Young pharmacologists

Each year the British Pharmacological Society, the Physiological Society and the Biochemical Society come together to support Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in organising a Young Life Scientists’ (YLS) symposium. Our organising committee was made up of members from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and our proposal ‘Molecular Neuropharmacology in Health and Wellbeing’ was selected as the 2018 symposium.

Our YLS team was brought together through existing connections between Dr Margaret Cunningham and Dr Sophie Bradley. The motivation of the team was to join forces to organise an event enabling ECRs to meet, present and form a friendly scientific network (regardless of discipline). With the YLS’s symposium being sponsored by three very different Societies, this opened up the perfect opportunity to capture the interests of ECRs whose research spans biochemistry, physiology and pharmacology.

Planning began with finding a venue that met our criteria, which included:  

  • Price
  • Availability on our chosen date (navigating a busy conference calendar was challenging)
  • Different types and sizes of rooms to suit different activities
  • Accessible location

We finally decided to hold the symposium at the Technology and Innovation Centre at the University of Strathclyde (which turned out to be a great venue!) on Thursday 15 November. At this point we could really start the detailed planning. As the organising committee was split over two universities, we arranged regular meetings to discuss important decisions but found that delegating tasks to individuals made things considerably more efficient.

Ample sponsorship was obtained from ThermoFisher, Tocris Bioscience and the American Chemical Society’s journal Pharmacology & Translational Science, through sending personalised sponsorship invitation letters to contacts there. We also secured financial support from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. This allowed us to offer a full programme of activities including four keynote speakers, three career workshops and a drinks reception with comedy performances, followed by an evening meal and ceilidh.

We tried to make use of social media and created a website to enhance promotion of the symposium. However, we realise now that we could have been more effective with greater activity on Twitter and Facebook and increased use of advertising avenues available through the Societies.

We also learned that most people submit abstracts and buy tickets close to the deadline. Therefore, for much of the build-up we were convinced we would have few to no attendees, speakers or poster presentations. However, the symposium was a success with around 100 attendees of various nationalities (attendees came from across the UK as well as Italy, Poland, India and Saudi Arabia) and career stages, around 60% of attendees were female.

We selected 23 poster and five oral presentations from the submitted abstracts and sessions were chaired by ECRs selected from the submitted abstracts which proved a real highlight.

The day itself was busy with several tasks, final touches and generally ensuring everything went according to plan. We were supported by enthusiastic master’s and undergraduate student volunteers to assist with setup, registration and other tasks. They were a huge help.

Inevitably some issues did arise on the day. One of our keynote speakers cancelled last minute. Thankfully, one of our attendees, Professor Andrew Tobin, was willing and able to step in and deliver a fantastic talk at such short notice. We also found it difficult to estimate food requirements which resulted in us ending up with a surplus. However, this excess food was not wasted but instead transported by some of our team to a University charity. Perhaps consulting your chosen catering team to give advice on food estimation would help with future events. We also tried to reduce paper usage by providing, via barcode, electronic versions of the programme and abstracts. Most people enjoyed this new format, though some preferred a physical copy and luckily, we’d printed a few just in case.

The social event afterwards was particularly good for us to get to know the delegates as we had no time throughout the day to really interact with anyone.

Overall it was a highly enjoyable, if at times stressful, experience however we all feel that it has improved our team working, organisational and networking skills among other things. We would highly recommend other early career researchers get involved in if possible.

Our tips for future organisers:

  1. Advertise early and often and via as many avenues as possible
  2. Make use of the experience, expertise and resources available from the YLS sponsor Societies
  3. Get the date and venue sorted quickly. Check for clashes/potential links with other conferences
  4. Share tasks amongst the organising committee to suit their different skills
  5. Set a sensible abstract deadline as most of your submissions may come in the last day or so
  6. Have a potential reserve speaker lined up in case any last minute changes are required

To apply to organise the 2019 YLS symposium, please submit the following items by Monday 1 April to conferences@biochemistry.org

  • A complete meeting proposal
  • A CV for each applicant
  • A letter of support from supervisors

Applicants must be prepared to work as a team to find a venue, design the programme, market the conference, assess abstracts and raise sponsorship. Find out more.

“There were sessions that were informative and engaging and the event provided some good networking opportunities as well” Dr Deovrat Bedge (Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Dr. Ambedkar College, Nagpur, India)

“Excellent event to present my first research poster and meet fellow young life-scientists” Mr Kilian Kleemann, (Human Biology Year 2 undergraduate student, University of Glasgow)

“YLS was a great opportunity to network with different scientists from a variety of backgrounds and experiences” Liam Butler, (MSi Biochemistry student, University of Strathclyde)

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