It’s been great, really.
Big Picture Alphabet Soup Programs from the NIH Director
It’s been a number of days where we, at SfN, have been shown tiny cells, pathways, charts and graphs, and terms very few people on this planet hear, read, and certainly understand. It was Francis Collins, current National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, that provided us with a refreshing update splash of the large-scale systems and programs the NIH has launched in order to advance scientific discoveries. It was kinda staggering. Most of the audience, as indicative of the questions asked, seemed to be most concerned about the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative set by the Obama administration. In addition to this program, Collins spoke about seven other programs the NIH is working on. Including the Connectome project and others like the UDP (Undiagnosed Disease Program). He also showed some data about the diminished success rate of grant approvals (now down to 20% when it should be around 30%). Overall, he was a great and intelligent speaker made obvious by the way he spoke without notes. His overall message was that “a single voice can be a good thing. But a whole symphony is better.” Let’s work together.
A recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, May-Britt Moser, gave the final presidential lecture. Her talk was certainly pleasant and insightful. She discussed grid cells in rodents along with speed cells, head-direction cells, place, and boarder cells. It was all exciting and topped off with a music video themed to their research that was just as abstract as the dress Moser wore during her talk.
I instead want to discuss something else here, a subgroup of the audience known as the students. This includes undergrad students and graduate students—pupils most likely in their 20’s and early 30’s. We sit, amongst the rest of you, in our seats thinking a number of things. Summed up, you could imagine we’re trying to understand the research, trying to recall a paper or a topic we learned in class. But we also inadvertently think about our future. “What path could I take to get to where Moser is now?” “Better yet, what path takes me to my own personalized success?” “Does that include an MD, a PhD, both, or none?” “Which schools would I consider going to?” “What do I find most interesting?” “Could I spend my life researching that?” “Stop thinking about these things! Focus on the lecture!”
We look at Moser, and her Nobel winning husband, and the many other lecturers, and even the many other SfN attendees running a lab, and the many many other researchers not at this annual meeting, we look for our place in the community. Our impact in science, in the world. Sure, this might seem obvious, but it’s something easily forgotten when you’re wrapped up in the busyness of your own life. It’s something to mention here as a gentle reminder that you are being observed by us. We’re placing ourselves in your shoes and it’s a wonderful influence and power you hold. I was certainly reminded of it when I saw the excitement from some of my fellow classmates as we prepared to listen to the final lecture.
The meeting is over. It was enjoyable, inspiring, and enlightening to say the least. As a student, as a first-timer, as a blogger, I did my best to take it all in. I saw science fuse with other disciplines. Greg Dunn’s beautiful art was just one example. I learned how to navigate the lectures, what to expect, and how to plan it all out for the next time. I met a number of people. I supported my friends and lab-mates, I explored Chicago, and I slept little and learned a lot. I dreamed.
The meeting was impressive. And just like the many students leaving the conference, I’ve developed a certain feeling of ambition. We have lots of ideas in our heads, plans about our futures. It’s a cycle of inspiration. Students being inspired by their mentors drive them to pursue future research. It’s this drive that further inspires their mentors. For now, we’ll take it one day at a time. One year at a time. Speaking of which, I’ll see you in San Diego next year!
A final thank you to those that kept up with my blogs. I appreciate it.