For the past 4 days, I’ve been in Keystone, CO for a conference on Stromal Cells in Immunity. Since beginning grad school I’ve been to a number of conferences- this is my 5th- with a variety of focuses and target audiences. And I have to say, this meeting was by far the best I’ve been to. I was apprehensive before the meeting started because my project in the lab is pretty broad in terms of its focus, and includes immunology, chemokine signaling, cancer biology, and lymphoid organogenesis. In the past, I’ve chosen to go to broad meetings so that I can hear talks related to all the different aspects of my project. But this year, I opted for something more specific- stromal cell biology- in hopes of being able to learn a lot about the one aspect of my project that I feel like I have the least strong foundation in. And yet because I have done less work in this area, it was still intimidating to think about presenting in front of some of the top immunologists and stromal cell biologists in the field.
People have said that small conferences are the best place to interact with senior scientists and network with them and with other junior scientists who are working on similar research. After four days of that, I can say that’s all true! I’m not one who has “scientific idols” or favorite scientists or anything like that, but I was still excited to get to meet people whose names I recognize from papers, and even more so to get advice on my own project from them. In addition, it was fun to meet other graduate students and postdocs who are doing research that’s even more similar to mine, in ways, than what other people in my lab are working on. The conversations at this meeting were extremely educational and thought-provoking. And because the conference had built-in breaks in the middle of the day, it was also a great way to make new science friends, socialize, and enjoy the mountains and the outdoors.
This conference was significantly better than I could have imagined, with regards to both the scientific and social side of things. In the past four days I’ve learned more about stromal cells than I ever would have learned by just reading papers as my project progressed; I got helpful advice that I am looking forward to bringing back to Pittsburgh and incorporating into my project; and I met a lot of other scientists from all over the world who I can only hope to stay connected with in the future.
Normally I think of conferences as a place to go to discuss an area I’m already well-versed in. This experience, though, has taught me that it’s possibly even more valuable to go in knowing less, because you can take away a lot more by learning about a new topic in such a quick and intense environment.