Arriving and delving in

My SfN experience this year started by being thoroughly confused – it took me way too long to find the room in which the professional development workshop on careers away from the bench had already started. I blame it on bad signposting… The session itself included some personal anectodes on the importance of networking, honest answers about salaries, and some more mundane tipps. The one that struck me is that in many circles of academia it is still perceived as failure if someone leaeves academia – this needs to change.

Next up was the somewhat cryptically called empirical appproaches to neuroscience and society symposium on rigor, reproducibility and robustness. The first talk by Rita Balice-Gordon laid out the problems that science fases in a fairly comprehensive manner. I particularly liked the second speaker, Katherine Button, who focused on statistical issues: the perils of chance. Her talk made me want to go read the papers she mentioned (e.g. ‘Why most published research findings are false’ by Ioannidis, or ‘Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience’, by herself and others). It touched on issues that should be discussed and taught much more pervasively. The reason they are not are deeply embedded into the current scientific system with its high rewards for ‘sexy’ positive results. The solution: a ‘systemic change to prevent good practice being penalised’. She also hinted at some steps into the right direction, e.g. pre-registering experiments and analyses.

I enjoyed those two talks, as they detailed – with evidence – many of the issues with which science as a whole is grappling at the moment and which will have to be dealt with at some point, lest science loses all its credibility. I was happy to hear that many clever people are thinking about these issues, and different ideas are being put forward to tackle them.

Nevertheless I needed a break, so I started to walk around the posterboards. I’ll just tell you about the coolest one I saw today: Gary Huang’s poster entitled ‘The role of SK channels in optimizing neural processing and behavioral perception of natural stimuli in the electrosensory system’. He works in Maurice Chacron’s lab at McGill in Montreal, and their favorite animals are weakly electric fish (which are indeed way cool!). What I liked about it is that they managed to go from ion channels all the way to behavior: these SK channels in the electrosensory lobe contribute to ‘neural’ whitening of the natural stimulus as well as behavioral tuning (did I get it right Gary?). Nice!

Of course I went to Cory Bargmann’s excellent presidential lecture, but that would deserve a blogpost of its own… maybe tomorrow!

And the final feature of the SfN that I am enjoying immensely: The chance to meet up with friends who come from or are dispersed all around the  world!

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