“I might have attended the conference alone, but when I left ComBio2018, I was not lonely anymore.”
-Sabrina, on ComBio2018 Conference
Time seems to go by faster during moments of fun and adventure. The 2018 ComBio Conference came to a closure with us cheering with our entitled glass of champagne at the conference drinks. I never thought I would end a conference with congratulatory handshakes, warm goodbye hugs from fellow delegates whom I met in this conference. This conference initiated the thinking wheels in my head, which is what motivated me to write this reflection post.
Before I start telling you my “sciency adventures” at ComBio2018, let us first rewind a little to understand what the ComBio2018 conference is all about.
ComBio: The conference and 2018 highlights
ComBio is one of major molecular sciences conference in Australia. As for ComBio2018, it was driven by the Australian Society of Molecular Biology (ASMB), Australia Society of Plant Scientist (ASPS), Australia and New Zealand Society of Cell and Developmental Biology, International Society of Differentiation, New Zealand Society of Plant Biologists, New Zealand Society of Chemistry and Molecular Biology. The society meetings were held in conjunction with the conference. However, the conference would only be held every two years starting from 2020. The conference includes a diverse range of themes ranging from plant biology, cell biology, biochemistry, to immunology. This year’s keynote speaker is no other than Nobel Laurette Randy Schekman whom unveil the membrane trafficking pathway. The conference is held at the new International Convention Centre (ICC) at the stunning heart of Darling harbour, Sydney, overseeing the majestic Sydney Opera house and Darling harbour Bridge.
These facts about ComBio2018 itself is already appealing to me as an amateur scientist, but what captivates me more is the opportunity to share my scientific work with outstanding scientist who will be attending this conference, as it has always been my dream to participate, rather than spectating, in a conference.
I couldn’t imagine anything better than this opportunity presented. Hence, I boldly signed up for it and embarked on this amazing journey to Sydney in the name of science.
The experience turned out to be better than what I have anticipated, for the following three reasons.
It is rare chance that you get a collection of talks from different fields concentrating in the same conference. Although plant science talks spark my interest (as always), I have been lured into talks from ‘the other side of the world’. To name a few, these includes talks on molecular machines, synthetic biology, cancer biology, and epigenetics.
One of my favourite presentation is no other than Professor Randy Schekman’s. His talk was titled ‘Sorting of small RNAs into extracellular vesicles secreted by human cells’ which focuses his lab’s current research on understanding small RNA transport using cellular vesicles. It is interesting to learn that RNA sorting into extracellular vesicles in a cell requires ‘helpers’ -RNA binding proteins. Interestingly, his team discovered that different RNA species were sorted in different cell lines. This awes me as there is still so much more to learn about vesicular trafficking, despite extracellular vesicle formation has now been incorporated as one of the fundamental biology basics in high school studies worldwide.
Besides the keynote speaker, my other favourite talk from the conference would be by Dr. Keiko Torii, the 2015 Saruhashi Prize winner (to recognize exceptional accomplishment for female Natural Scientist in Japan) from the University of Texas at Austin, USA. Her research focuses on stomata differentiation and regulation, and the title of her talk for ComBio2018 is ‘Making a pore: Signalling and Transcriptional Control of Stomata Differentiation’. In her talk, she discussed about the systemic regulatory system of stomata formation in plants, and how disrupting different transcriptional factors could affect stomata distribution and formation. Her passion for her research struck me, but what is even more fascinating about her research is how simple structures like stomata has such sophisticated regulation involved. There were many other talks which are equally as fascinating which I could talk days and days about it. Nevertheless, the common theme of the talks in ComBio2018 is the tremendous amount of effort, time, passion, and patience that is invested for discoveries that form the basic understanding of molecular biology today.
Having to attend my first interstate conference during my masters is a nerve-wrecking experience. The second highlight of this conference would be the people whom I have interacted with during the conference. I could still remember how nervous I was prior the poster session, but during a casual conversation a postdoc whom happened to sit beside me listening to my conversation with other phDs talking about my work said some encouraging words. His kind words of acknowledging my passion for my research fuelled my confidence immediately, and stayed with me throughout the conference. There were also other phDs and masters students whom I have interacted with throughout the conference. These people are passionate and dedicated about their work. You can see the sparkle in their eyes, their waving hands when you asked them about their research. It is like watching a puppet coming to life – unbelievably fascinating. There were a few who I can have some really in-depth conversations. We opened up about our struggles in research, our hesitation if research is meant for us, how we have our ways of overcoming challenges and combating issues like stress and imposter syndrome. Their honesty and humbleness throughout the conversation inspires me to soldier on in my science research quest, and consolidates my respect for those who decided to take on the challenge of being at the forefront of scientific discoveries.
The overall experience at ComBio2018 itself is life changing. The symposium presentations were stimulating and eye-opening. During my poster presentation, I have met generous academics who came and gave sound advice on my projects, principle investigators that acknowledges my efforts and wished me the best of luck; research enthusiast whom we discussed our research from almost 30 minutes! I will never forget the conversations we had over the society dinner at the second day of the conference, how we were so immersed in new ideas to answer our research questions until we nearly forgotten our warmly served dinner! At the end of the conference, when I was announced as one of the Australia Society of Plant Scientists (ASPS) Poster Prize Winner, I will never forget the exciting cheers and hugs from the new friends I have just met here. The conference might be short, but the whole experience of ComBio2018 have a life-long impact on me as a budding scientist, and the experience is truly motivating.
A photo of me sciencing at Combio2018, kudos to my new friend Daisy Shu for this photo. Featured in the photo is Resmi, a new friend whom I met during the conference.
Last but not least: Why should you attend a conference during your research candidature?
To those of you who are contemplating if you should attend a conference, I highly recommend it. In my opinion, it is great to attend conferences throughout different stages of your research journey, rather than waiting until the late stage of your research candidature. This is because you will get to learn how to benefit the most from each conference that you attend. You will also get to learn how to interact with academics from all walks of life (or ‘research life’), and each have a unique story to tell. A conference is a great place to exchange ideas and brain-storm for new ways to solve challenges that you have encountered in your work. Moreover, there is nothing more rewarding than to watch yourself grow and evolve from your presence in each conference you attend.
As my favourite lecturer/mentor Velta Vingelis always say: Carpe diem (Seize the day)