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Molecular Neurobiology – Greece 2022

sign for conferenceUniv Old Members’ Trust Graduate Travel Report – Emily Rowland (2020, DPhil Clinical Medicine)

It is a truth universally known that the best science comes from sipping mocktails on Cretan beaches, and the 2022 EMBO Workshop in Molecular Neurobiology was certainly no exception.

The first day of the conference (and the day of my presentation) was a cracker start jam-packed with big names and cutting-edge research in molecular neuroscience. We savoured Semaphorins with Yvonne Jones, were charmed by axon guidance cues with Mark Tessier-Lavigne, before Alex Jaworski delighted with Dcc receptors. By the time the lunch break rolled around, I was so overwhelmed by inspiration from the morning’s seminars, nerves for my looming presentation and exhaustion from my 2am bedtime the night before (courtesy of a very delayed flight plus booking confusion at the hotel), that I’m honestly surprised I managed to down my two plates from the extensive banquet the hotel provided.

Shortly after lunch came my time, and I was honestly surprised with how much I enjoyed my presentation. I went into it with a mindset of survival – that it was a great experience and a chance to get feedback from experts both in my field and in adjacent fields, and that I just had to get through the 15 mins before I could relax and really absorb the rest of the conference.

But I found the experience akin to the adrenaline rush of a rollercoaster rather than of a narrowly missed car crash. I got positive feedback and insightful questions, and in the following sessions and days, I found that my presentation continued to foster lingering conversations with other students and academics regarding my project, my DPhil and my plans for the future. A truly worthwhile experience!

Unfortunately, the evening of the first day brought some un-wanted excitement, when my perusal of the first poster session was interrupted by a NHS COVID close contact notification. I was quickly cleared with a negative rapid test, but as per Greek guidelines remained largely isolated from the conference and was taxi-ed to a nearby village the next morning for a pharmacist-administered test. An experience in itself, the initial “5 minute” wait for the result was reduced to 2 minutes following a conversation with my taxi driver, and I was quickly provided with a negative result certificate a short minute later proudly proclaiming an appropriate 20 mins wait time. While a morning I won’t soon forget, I am still disappointed I missed two seminars on nanoimaging of neuronal tissues and molecular mechanisms of cortical migration for this rogue adventure.

The penultimate day was chock full of my science idols, from Hiro Furakawa of CSHL presenting on NMDA receptors, to LMB Cambridge’s Ingo Greger discussing AMPA receptors.

And the fourth day, in addition to providing 7 final inspiring presentations, yielded a potential collaboration with an Italian neuroscientist. The conference was rounded out by a Cretan dinner in a beautiful restaurant by the ocean in Heraklion, complete with multiple courses of delicious food, intriguing conversations, and beautiful performances from traditional Cretan dancers. It is hard to remember why I was ever so intimidated by my post-doc supervisor after seeing him merrily dancing away in a long snake of professors arm-in-arm with students and restaurant staff!

It is impossible to overstate how incredible this conference was, and how much it inspired me. I have so many ideas for my DPhil going forwards, from new collaborations to interesting novel techniques to exciting innovative perspectives!

Following this amazing conference, I embarked on a week of self-funded solo travel around the island – hopping from Χανιά to Ρέθυμνο to Ηράκλειο by Crete’s public bus network. I did day trips to the famous pink sands of Elafonissi, the idyllic Arkadi Monastery, and the more infamous Spinalonga Island. I ate, read and walked my way through three cities, hundreds of years of history and countless cultures.

I honestly can’t thank Univ enough for helping me attend this conference, and enabling me to fall in love with this beautiful island, country and language. Now please excuse me while I go search for other conferences around the world!

Ευχαριστώ και αντίο!

Find out more about the range of travel grants and scholarships available to assist Univ students on our Travel Grants page or read further travel reports.

Published: 4 August 2022

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