Thoughts on the state of European Neuro PhD students

Set at the beautiful Portuguese beach, students from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown did a fabulous job of organizing a gathering for European Neuroscience doctoral students – ENCODS 2015 – hence the grand title. Overall it was a fantastic meeting with many interactions, getting to know students with different backgrounds that work in different subfields of Neuroscience all over Europe. The conference not only had the standard keynote lectures and participant talks, but also workshops, speed dating with mini posters and visual abstracts – turned into business cards. All was set out to maximize the personal interactions – which I think worked out very well. The speed dating sessions with the mini posters often lasted for hours, the business cards/visual abstracts were consulted for finding people with similar research interests but also served as playing cards. Plus there was of course the beach – excellent for socializing!

Discussion topics ranged from experimental details to woes about publishing. The latter discussion was sparked by a talk on publishing, which for once did not tell us how to get a Nature paper, but highlighted what is going wrong in the current publishing process. It aptly pinpointed these issues, but did not offer any alternatives. The ensuing discussions lasted until the early morning hours, and we were wondering whether we could find a single very concrete step, that if implemented, would improve the process. Maybe our minds were too tired or too clouded from Portuguese wine, but we did not find anything easily implementable that did not involve revolutionizing the way science is conducted, funded and published (as we are certainly not the only and also not the earliest people to think about these issues, some ideas might be gained from reading blogs, commentaries etc., e.g. Björn Brembs’ blog on what the scientific infrastructure should be like). Nevertheless it is important to realize that the current way of doing science leaves many of us very frustrated, and this frustration will likely drive some of us – the most creative? – out of science. Sad, and bad for science too!

Nevertheless, to me the meeting was a success – I met and talked to a variety of students, allowing me to see the different approaches to Neuroscience. I improved my skills in the workshops – there were some on scientific writing, grant writing, job talks and many more. I attended the one on science visualization by Gil Costa and learned some timesaving tricks in Adobe Illustrator. Gonçalo Lopes presented good coding habits, which will take some discipline to implement, but my future self will be hugely grateful. And it gave me an insight into the lives of other PhD students and into the current state of affairs for budding European neuroscientists.

One thought on “Thoughts on the state of European Neuro PhD students

  1. Thanks Sara for this rather interesting post about the ENCODS’15. I do second your opinion that this meeting was quite a success. Speaking about my personal experience in it, I have met very interesting people with completely different views to the very same field of neuroscience. It’s compelling to learn about how other people look at the same topics of neuroscience but with dissimilar opinions, which could be partially attributed to their diverse backgrounds. The conference was an eye-opener on many things either in science or in life in general.

    Concerning the workshops, I participated in the Carlos Ribeiro’s “Talking Science”, and Joaquim Teixeira’s “Grant/fund writing”. During both workshops, I learned new points and brushed up on some dormant others. I would have loved if we could have dedicated a whole day for the workshops, the full morning is for the first, and the rest of the afternoon is for the second.

    Finally, I believe we all had great time during such short meeting, that we will reminisce for the next few years to come. It would be rather nice if we could have a reunion in 4-5 years period from now to see who still works in science and who bailed out of it, and whether our opinions about it have changed!

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