Written by Vivian Peirce & Naomi Penfold; photos credited to Annie Robbins & Joseph Polex-Wolf.
On Monday 21st July, the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science’s Metabolic Research Laboratories (IMS-MRL) hosted their fourth Student Symposium. This was the annual opportunity for our postgraduate students to share their research with their peers and the rest of the Institute. It was an overwhelming success with 30 student presentations crammed into the whole day affair, covering all aspects of the exciting metabolic research going on in the IMS and its affiliated labs throughout the University of Cambridge. Here’s how it went:
Every year, the IMS-MRL hosts a student-run symposium for all the postgraduate students to share their research with their peers. Structured like a conference, all Masters and PhD students are invited to contribute. Specifically, second and third year PhD students are invited to give talks and Masters and first year PhD students to present posters. The carrot? In addition to the chance to show off some cool data to your peers and practise presenting your science to a friendly audience, each contributor benefits from individual feedback from our respected judges – post-docs and PIs from our very own Institute – and the best talk and poster presenters receive an award. If that isn’t enough, there’s always the free lunch.
THE SCIENCY BITS
The research groups at the IMS-MRL are fundamentally united by a common basic principle: a focus on the understanding, prevention and treatment of diabetes, obesity and other related endocrine and metabolic disorders. However, how each research group undertakes this mission is incredibly varied, ranging from basic science to directly translational research. The annual student symposium showcased the diversity of these approaches:
This year’s talk sessions – entitled “Developmental influences on disease,” “Molecular mechanisms in metabolism,” and “Understanding metabolic disease in humans” – gave a real flavour for the variety of research happening at MRL. Where else could you listen to a talk about modelling cardiovascular disease in chickens and a talk about a newly discovered hypoglycaemic syndrome in a human patient on the same day? Incidentally, Katie Skeffington’s talk on “The role of mitochondrial oxidative stress in the programming of cardiovascular disease in the chicken” won the prize for best talk, alongside Peiran Yang’s talk on a recently identified regulator of cardiac development humans named, rather cutely, “ELABELA/Toddler.” Nick Heeley, Adele Pinnock, Asha Carpenter and Cheryl Brighton won the poster prizes for their superb presentations covering research into how the brain controls feeding, how microRNAs in the liver change with ageing, how antenatal glucocorticoid therapy affects heart function and how GLP-1, an important intestinal peptide, is released. The research programmes that lie under the IMS umbrella really do look at all aspects of metabolic disease!
The IMS-MRL student symposium is student-run, which means that behind all the posterboards, programmes and picnic were seven keen organisers: Naomi Penfold, Vivian Peirce, Annie Robbins, Joseph Polex-Wolf, Cheryl Brighton, Nick Heeley and Claudia Gabriela-Mitrofan. The Snow White to these seven dwarves being the IMS’s own Research Manager and coordinator of our PhD programme, Dr Maria Adams – thanks Maria!
Taking the strategy that “many hands make light work,” the organizing committee each took on a few small tasks – from recruiting post-docs and PIs, advertising the event and producing the programmes to organizing prizes and ordering the delicious catering. The teamwork paid off: the symposium ran smoothly and they even had time to take part in the talk and poster presentations themselves. There was, however, a collective sigh of relief as the symposium came to a close and the students meandered over to the on-site pub to “network”.
One other final task, introduced this year, was analysing the feedback forms completed by symposium contributors and attendees: a PhD student can never pass up the opportunity to make more graphs. Next year’s symposium will be even better thanks to this helpful feedback.
A STUDENT’S IMPRESSION – Vivian Peirce
“To me, one of the students, this year’s symposium was great opportunity to catch up with fellow students who have been working in different labs, to see what they have been working on and, of course, to enjoy a delicious catered lunch and a drink at the Frank Lee afterwards. [Ed’s note – free for some! This year’s symposium saw the introduction of student nominations for “Best question,” “Best answer,” “Most helpful,” and “Most enthusiastic poster presentation,” the prizes for which were a free drink at the student social after the symposium.] Considering that MRL students are often scattered across multiple research groups, departments, and even buildings, I appreciate the fact that the student symposium is an occasion that brings us all together. But it’s not just the opportunity for socialising that I enjoy; many of my peer’s ideas and experiments are really, really cool, and often give me a new perspective on my own research. The symposium is also a friendly environment for presenting research in progress and the feedback on talks and posters is useful when thinking about presenting at conferences.”
Overall, this year’s symposium was a great success. The IMS is looking forward to hearing about what the MRL students have been up to since at the next student symposium in summer 2015.