Thursday, March 17, 2016

Conference review, Part 2: APS Young Investigator Colloquium

The Young Investigator Colloquium is a satellite event for the American Psychosomatic Society Meeting. The aim is to bring 25 young investigators together with 10 senior researchers to receive mentorship about their research ideas. As a participant at this year’s colloquium, I am a member of the Engel group, with Susan Lutgendorf and Redford Williams as mentors.

Young investigators present their research ideas for 5 minutes. This is followed by 15 minutes of feedback from mentors and then 10 minutes of feedback from the other young investigators. This pretty much inverts the usual ratio of presentation:feedback within a talk. It's a nice way to take the focus of rehearsing your speech about what you know already and bring the focus to getting more perspectives on how your work could be different. 

One point that was brought up across the board was the potential to incorporate genetics into our work. In the research I work on, we already have plans to look at the genetics of the microbiota, although perhaps the human genome is something I have dragged my heels about learning about. Another suggestion was to make better use of models in writing grant proposals (you can’t go too wrong with more boxes with arrows). I suppose it does no harm to get a review written before asking for money for research, so you can include your article’s figure as well for a cheeky self-citation. The peer review was also mutually beneficial-we discussed topics such as trade-offs between using double-blind design and completing a trial quickly if placebos take a long time to produce, employing mixed methods with qualitative methods and chasing different sources of funding.

When many conferences are talk-poster-talk-sponsor table-talk, it is forward-thinking to have a more active learning activity like this, not to mention generous of mentors to give up half a day for the event. I don’t think my project will undergo a sea change as a result of the Colloquium. However, I don't this was really the aim; one of the objectives was to improve the writing of our research proposals, as well as critiquing the research ideas themselves. It does seem a pity that close collaborations between people in our group didn’t seem to suggest themselves by the end of the half day, but then there was a diversity in our research topics as well as underlying similarities. Later in the conference we were treated to lunch with the mentors. It was a good chance for the organisers to plug next year's meeting. Given that it will be at the closer venue of Seville Spain, and as Colloquium participants get free registration for the following year, I'm inclined towards attending.

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