Society for Neuroscience 2016

I recently returned (and am still recovering) from the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. This was my 5th (!!) time attending SfN since I first attended in 2010 as a first-year grad student. It was just as fun now as it was that first time, but I have learned over the years how to better handle such a huge conference. 

My first year I spent a lot of time aimlessly wandering around, not sure what to do, and consequently didn't see much. I felt pretty lost and overwhelmed by the thousands of posters, exhibitors, and talks going on each day. I quickly learned that planning and scheduling are critical to an SfN success!

This year I had most of my conferencing time planned out, including social events. It made my life much easier and eliminated some of the stress of the meeting. The first session I attended on Saturday AM was called "Success in Academia: A Focus on Strategies for Women." This topic is very near and dear to my heart. The session had excellent panelists and covered a range of topics including: finding a postdoc, negotiating, grants(wo)manship, over-committing, family commitments, and other issues. I live-tweeted the event, and check out this Storify by Anna Vlastis for a compilation of the tweets. 

Keeping with the theme of women in STEM, Saturday night I attended a meet-up with members of The STEM Squad, a Facebook group organized by Christine Liu. The STEM Squad is a group of women scientists, many of whom are involved in social media, blogging, art-making, and other creative pursuits. We had some margaritas and chatted about science, makeup, etc. Samantha Yammine (aka "Science Sam") posted a recap on Instagram.

At first glance, this picture is no different than any other on Instagram (especially on a Friday). . But there are a few things about it that make it pretty special, which is why I’ve decided to make it today’s #FeatureFriday post. . This photo was taken last Saturday at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, shortly after all the people in this photo met for the first time! We had been brought together by an online community called “The STEM Squad,” which is a facebook group for information-sharing between female-identifying people in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (“STEM”), such as the people in this photo who I’ll describe below. . On the very left is @sailorpatch, neuroscience grad student from Torino currently on an exchange in Washington. She studies the special properties of neurons in the brain that allow them to communicate with one another. . Next to her is Rachel, who I knew prior to this meetup. Rachel has been my biggest mentor as she was a senior PhD student when I joined my lab and she trained me on everything I needed to know (+ more). Rachel now works for a funding agency, helping to make sure Canada’s best research in neurodegenerative diseases gets the money it needs. . 3rd from the left is @amybelfi, postdoc in the Dept of Psychology at @nyuniversity. Her research is in the field of neuroeesthetics, which I talked about a few posts ago for a Science Sunday. She is trying to understand how the brain perceives aesthetic experiences like art and music. . In the middle is @sarapoptart, a graduate student at @ucberkeleyofficial. She’s a PhD student in computational and cognitive neuroscience trying to understand how sound and visual information are represented in the brain. . Next to me is Christine (@christineliuart @twophoton), the founder of The STEM Squad. She’s a PhD student @ucberkeley studying how nicotine affects the brain and started The STEM Squad 3 months ago, and today the group had its 400th member join! There are daily insightful discussions and posts being shared, & I encourage you to join if you want to meet other people in similar fields going through similar struggles on the quest for success!

A photo posted by 🔬 samantha yammine (@science.sam) on

Sunday AM I attended probably the most relevant SfN session for me - Music and the Brain. There was a great line-up of speakers, including Nina Kraus, Daniel Levitin, and John Iversen. The session was chaired by Elizabeth Stegemoller from Iowa State (go Iowa!), who is a music therapist and neuroscientist. I was really excited that this session even existed at the Neuroscience meeting, and even more so when I came in and the room was packed! It was great to see music represented so well at SfN. For my #musicscience people, here's a Storify of my live-tweets from the session.

Sunday evening was a bunch of reunions! One of the best parts of SfN. First up was a dinner with Iowa friends, followed by hitting up the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience social. I found out about FUN through my St. Olaf professors, and we have a St. Olaf meet-up every year after their social. It was awesome to see so many undergraduates attending SfN. I'm really proud of my alma mater and it's great to see how the neuroscience program has grown even in the few years since I graduated. 

One of the last things I did at the conference was my poster presentation. This was my first time presenting non-music related work and it seemed to attract a different crowd than usual. Neuroaesthetics is a pretty 'niche' area, so I'm not sure the SfN crowd knew what to make of it. I actually had one person come to my poster who was convinced that it said 'anesthetic' and tried talking to me about ketamine... So it was an interesting session. Here's the poster

Overall, #sfn16 was a great time, as usual. Networking, seeing old friends, hearing about new science, and getting to hang out in San Diego and eat loads of Mexican food... what more can you ask from a conference?