Guest Blog by Katie Grayson – 4th year PhD student working in photosynthesis research and synthetic biology, in the lab of Professor C. Neil Hunter, FRS at the University of Sheffield
Gordon Research Conferences (GRCs) provide an international forum for the discussion of frontier research. I recently attended the August 2013 GRC on Photosynthesis. This was the first international conference I have been to and it came at an ideal time as I was just finishing the 3rd year of my PhD. The conference was held at Mount Snow in Vermont, with rolling hills and trees as far as the eye could see; the remote location really fostered a sense of community. Despite the fact that the conference was intense in terms of science, the beauty of the location helped create a relaxed atmosphere.
GRCs are intended to be small and create plenty of opportunities to interact with other attendees. The atmosphere was not cliquish – people, including the senior scientists, were approachable and everyone had a voice. Formal networking opportunities came in the form of discussions after talks and poster sessions, but there were also 3 hours of free time in the afternoon to form social connections with other people. Even during these informal periods, we had stimulating scientific discussions in a more relaxed environment than during the scheduled formal discussions, encouraging everyone to speak freely.
The talks were diverse and covered the latest developments in my field. My research involves just one small area in the wide field of photosynthesis, so it’s important to keep in touch with what other work is being done. Poster sessions were held for a couple of hours each day, and provided a chance to meet people whose research was relevant to mine, to share ideas and discuss experiments. I came away from the meeting inspired to try many new things in the lab, and with new ideas for directions to take my research. By having the chance to talk to scientists from other stages in their career, I learned about the possible career paths I could take, and what sort of area I would like to continue research in after my PhD. I also gained tips and tricks for when it comes to looking for postdoctoral positions, especially internationally as there were attendees from all over the world.
Traveling to America for a conference was a great cultural experience. I made new friends and have formed many new contacts, who I hope to see and possibly work with in the future. I now have contacts should I need inputs on science, possible collaborations and jobs. I also met people from the USA with whom I have existing collaborations; it was invaluable to be able to meet face-to-face rather than exchanging emails across time zones.
I am extremely grateful to the Biochemical Society for awarding me a travel grant to help fund my attendance at the GRC. The travel grant application process was a useful exercise in focusing my goals for what I wanted to get out of the conference, and I would encourage anyone to apply. I would recommend anyone who has the chance to attend a conference to seize the opportunity as, for me, it was a rewarding and inspiring experience. GRCs are especially good for anyone who is attending an international scientific meeting for the first time due to the sense of community and non-intimidating atmosphere.
Have you been a member of the Biochemical Society for over a year? You can apply for a General Travel Grant to support your attendance at a conference.