Sophie Karolczak, Dowling Lab, Genetics and Genome Biology, Hospital for Sick Children, Canada
As a graduate student who started my program during the Covid-19 pandemic, I have never attended an in-person conference. I have heard stories of the serendipitous connections during social hours that turn into amazing future collaborations, and the opportunities to visit new places, both domestic and abroad. However, this has not been my reality in the conferences I have attended thus far. I have been sitting in my living room in Toronto, often in a different time zone than the conference, hoping that my Wifi will stay connected long enough to hear a talk!
While being in an actual conference hall with other people sounds quite appealing, I had a really enjoyable time overall attending the Developmental Disorders: From Mechanism to Treatment conference virtually. Allowing speakers to pre-record their talks made the flow really seamless, and for the most part prevented the technological hiccups that we have grown so accustomed to in this day and age. I appreciated the opportunity to chat with the speakers after each round of talks, and the Remo platform allowed for easy hopping from table to table if there were a few people I hoped to reach. During one brief session, I got to meet scientists at varying career stages, from multiple different countries, employing different model organisms, and asking vastly different scientific questions. At times I would just sit there listening to conversations taking place between experts in fields totally different than mine, and I was enjoying every minute of it!
One thing I really appreciated about this conference was the emphasis on the connection between basic science and translational research. We got to hear from researchers doing amazing work at all points along this continuum, including some who managed to follow projects from the discovery of a mutation to implementation of new treatments in the clinic. As someone who is working on the more basic characterization of a disease phenotype but hoping to see treatments head towards the clinic someday, it was fascinating to see how this process can work in real life. I also absolutely loved the patient testimonials, which help remind us that the diseases we study, while sometimes abstract in our minds, are things real people are struggling with every day. I hope to keep seeing this type of session implemented in disease-focused conferences.
Overall, this conference was a fantastic opportunity to hear about cutting-edge science in the disease modelling and developmental biology field, and I look forward to attending it again in the future!
Nicole Edwards, Postdoctoral Fellow, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, USA
Virtual scientific conferences have made it possible for early career researchers to share our work and interact with colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having run very successful virtual seminars (namely “Development presents…”) in the past year, I looked forward to a wonderful experience at the online meeting run jointly by the journals Development and Disease Models & Mechanisms, Developmental Disorders: From Mechanism to Treatment. The meeting struck an excellent balance between invited talks, short talks, and flash talks – a series of 3-minute presentations given by participants. Flash talks were a great opportunity to learn about the breadth of science being conducted by meeting participants and gave talking points for discussion time after the talks. Presenting posters at online meetings are challenging, so 3-minute flash talks were a great alternative to get maximum engagement at this virtual meeting.
I greatly appreciated that this meeting also incorporated views and collaborations between physicians, clinical geneticists, and basic scientists working on a variety of disease models. These collaborations are where the rare disease field is headed in order to make the most impact clinically, and to help understand the underlying biology of these developmental disorders. With this, one of the most impactful session included a series of patient and family interviews, reminding us of the real implications our research on rare diseases has.
I had the opportunity to give a ten-minute short talk which I pre-recorded on Zoom, making it overall less stressful and lessened the chances of technical glitches giving a live talk. Having dedicated “Meet the Speaker” networking time afterwards was a plus, and the online platform Remo was easy to navigate and to facilitate discussion. If you couldn’t catch a particular participant you wanted to talk with, it was easy to use the chat feature in Remo to make connections.
Finally, I encourage any early-career researcher to attend a Workshop and/or Journal Meeting run by The Company of Biologists, either virtually or hopefully soon, in-person. Having been to both their in-person and online meetings, I have experienced how much The Company of Biologists strives to support early-career researchers. The Company of Biologists meetings truly are unparalleled opportunities to be involved with the future of your scientific field.