Ged and Vicky went to The Physiological Society’s annual conference in Cardiff on 6th-8th July. Vicky was giving a talk about her study measuring breathing muscle activity after people breathe a chemical called methacholine to cause narrowing of the airways. The talk went very well – people were interested in the topic and asked plenty of questions. It is always useful to get new perspectives on your research, and conferences provide a really good opportunity for this.
Even better though is hearing about all of the research that other scientists from around the UK and across the world have been doing. Scientific conferences usually have four ways of sharing information with attendees: lectures, ‘symposia’, ‘spoken sessions’ and posters. Lectures are given by leading researchers in their field, and usually involve people discussing the current ‘state of the art’ in a particular topic. Examples at Physiology 2015 included the laughter lecture we posted about before, and Professor Karin Sipido from Belgium talking about calcium in cardiac muscle cells. All of the five main lectures at Physiology 2015 were given by female scientists, as we are celebrating 100 years since women were first admitted as members to The Physiological Society.
Symposia are sessions where a number (usually four or five) prominent scientists give talks on a related area. These are useful to get a summary of the breadth of research in a field as well as to keep up to date with the current thinking in particular areas. What’s great about these sessions is that you end up with a large number of scientists with similar interests in one room, so the questions that people in the audience ask the speakers, and the discussions that arise, can be really interesting (and at times can get quite heated!). These sessions are often good opportunities to come up with new research ideas – Ged was frantically scribbling during the “Sex differences in the physiology of exercise” session!
Spoken sessions, or oral communications, are when researchers (usually more junior ones, like Vicky) give a talk about one study they have done and what the findings from the study were. These talks are strictly ten minutes long – at this conference they even had traffic lights (0-8 minutes = green, 8-10 minutes = amber, 10 minutes = red = stop), with five minutes after that for questions from the audience. Luckily Vicky stayed in the time limit and the organiser didn’t have to leap up on to the stage to shut her up!
Posters are displayed in the large conference hall, usually for the whole day but with a set period of time where the main researcher (again, usually the more junior researchers) stand by their posters to discuss their study with other conference attendees who are interested in that field. Posters are grouped into similar topics to allow people to discuss amongst themselves as well. We saw a couple of really interesting posters, and we will write about one of them very soon. What’s useful about a poster is that there is more time to look at the results and really think about what it means, as well as to have a longer discussion with the researcher. Although in theory it’s more prestigious to be invited to give a talk, it’s often more useful to present a poster as you get more people’s opinions.
One other god thing about conferences is that you get to go to new places! Ged and Vicky stayed in a nice apartment near Cardiff Bay, and so had a bit of a (windy) walk down by the water before dinner. It was only a short conference trip so not much time to see anything else, but luckily we got out of Cardiff before the First Great Western train strike. Not so lucky was the fact that the tube strike had just started when we got back to London – cue a long walk from Paddington station to St Pancras (and blisters on Vicky’s feet – smart conference shoes are not power-walking friendly!). Still a very worthwhile trip – Ged has been to The Physiological Society’s conferences many times before but it was Vicky’s first time at this conference. It’s quite different to conferences that are more orientated around patient care – this conference is very science-y and really made you think. That’s a good thing! It was really interesting to meet researchers working in very diverse fields, like those doing animal research, and both Vicky and Ged have come away with new ideas and new enthusiasm. Thanks Cardiff, and thanks Physiology 2015.