Science Spotlight: A Personal Perspective on the Society for Neuroscience


Presentations at a past meeting for the Society of Neuroscience. (Courtesy/SFN)

By Deirdre Sackett

This past weekend, the 42nd annual Society for Neuroscience meeting took place in New Orleans, La. from Oct. 13 – 17. Over 30,000 neuroscientists from across the country and around the globe gathered in a massive conference center on the outskirts of the French Quarter for five days of poster sessions and symposia.

This was my second time attending the Society for Neuroscience conference. This time around, I presented my thesis work at the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN), accompanied by my lab mates Flo DiBiase ’13 and Kyle Harrold ’13. We spent three days at the conference, each of which was jam-packed with learning, meetings, networking and neuroscience goodies.

There were three major components of the conference: poster sessions, symposia and exhibitors. Poster sessions ran for four hours in the mornings and afternoons. The hall in which the poster session took place was absolutely massive. In the same room were the exhibitors — one of the highlights of the conference. Hundreds of science companies set up shop to discuss, promote and sell their products and hand out free items to conference-goers. These tchotchkes were in such great demand that we even woke up early on a Sunday morning to nab free mugs emblazoned with rats. Of course, free stuff comes at a price; we had to give the exhibitors our badge code in order to get the goods, and of course, we found ourselves inundated with advertisement emails in the days afterward.

The symposia took place in the 200-or-so satellite rooms in the conference center, away from the main poster hall. Symposia were divided into two categories: mini-symposia and nano-symposia. Respectively, they consisted of 15 and 20-minute talks by various professors and researchers from different universities and practices. However, the talks centered around a main theme such as schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury or consciousness.

Presenting at FUN was certainly an experience. I had previous experience presenting my research in symposia to students and professors for the past year and a half at the College; however, there was something entirely different about having fellow neuroscientists, some of whose names I recognized, come up to me and ask me to explain my thesis.

Communicating my research to other neuroscientists, as well as learning from their critiques and suggestions was an invaluable experience.

However, not everything revolved around neuroscience on this trip. In addition to the conference, New Orleans was an astounding place. While we mainly stayed in the French Quarter near the Mississippi river and spent a majority of our time at the conference, we still were able to take in the sights of the Big Easy. Bourbon Street’s energy and sleaze was unlike anything I’d seen before. The Riverwalk mall, a conglomeration of restaurants and gift shops, was another highlight — a calming sight and a pleasant stroll after the tumult of the conference. Signs everywhere said that New Orleans was “jazzed to see us” — “us” being the throngs of neuroscientists flooding the streets. On a side note, playing “spot the neuroscientist” on the streets kept us entertained the entire trip.

I can’t end this without mentioning the food in New Orleans. Bottom line: the food was amazing, but it did get a little old after three straight days of consumption (there’s only enough jamabalaya and fried/buttery foodstuffs I can handle in such a short time period). Some culinary highlights included a swordfish steak, a pasta dish featuring alligator meat and the world-famous, powder-overloaded beignet doughnuts.

In retrospect, I am amazed at how much activity we crammed into such a short amount of time. From running around to various posters, trying to catch researchers before their lunch breaks and exploring the city at night, the trip was both comprehensive and delightfully exhausting. I fully intend to return to New Orleans for future Society for Neuroscience conferences … as well as for more beignets.

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