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Queen Square Symposium

By news editor, on 27 March 2012

Ana Carolina Saraiva (ACS), a first year PhD student at the Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders, and Xun Yu Choong (XYC), a first year student on the four-year PhD programme in Clinical Neuroscience, report on the 13th Queen Square Symposium, held on 16 March.

What began as a small event over a decade ago has developed to become the primary student-led conference in Queen Square (QS).

The QS Symposium is organised by students for students, bringing them together across departments, and aims to provide a platform to showcase the diversity of scientific research carried out in the UCL Institute of Neurology. The format for this was presenting posters about research projects.

This year showcased a variety of high-quality research, ranging from cognitive to clinical studies of neuroscience and neurology. How does the menstrual cycle affect perception of emotional faces? Are enlarged perivascular spaces on MRI a new imaging window for cerebral small vessel diseases?

This was an opportunity for the bright minds of the future to show us what they’ve got!

ACS: I first arrived to meet the judges, who were gathered to receive instructions for the day. For most of them, this was the first time they would be judging a poster and were looking forward to it.

“What will you be looking for in the poster presentations?” For many of them, “style” was more important than “substance”, considering the candidates would be at different stages of their research.

“What are the key things the presenters will need to do?” They should “be concise, engaging and enthusiastic”. That is something I have often heard in research: if you don’t believe your research is exciting, this will be apparent in the way you present.

XYC: Meanwhile, I arrived early to take my place among the dense rows of poster boards as a participant in the poster session. For many students, it was the first time we have had to present our work in a relatively public domain, and my fellow participant, Andrianos Liavas, was geared up for it.

“I’ve been working on this project for only three months as part of my first rotation, so there’s a lot that can still be shaped,” said Andrianos, “It would be interesting to hear any comments people might have from a fresh point of view”.

ACS: The poster sessions were split in two rooms, which allowed for a bit more breathing space, but only just! This year there were 70 posters – from 20 MSc and 50 PhD students – demonstrating how this opportunity had appealed to students.

Nancy Kou (MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience) explained that she decided to present a poster “because it is a good opportunity to gain experience for bigger international conferences”.

XYC: The posters were separated into eight groups, each judged by a roaming panel of two or three academics, representing a mixture of research backgrounds. A finalist from each of the MSc and PhD categories was nominated from each group to compete in the second round, from which two winners and runners-up would be chosen.

ACS: Following the first round, we caught up with one of the judges, Professor Brian Day, to find out his opinions on the session so far. He was very impressed with its overall quality and the presentations had been crucial for his understanding of unfamiliar topics.

The poster that he thought was best was “not too busy”, “polished” and “immediately clinically relevant”. Tips worth noting for future poster presentations!

XYC: The posters that qualified for the final round were extremely diverse, from neuroimaging studies investigating the possibility of diagnosing multiple sclerosis using grey matter lesions, to molecular studies of severe childhood epilepsy.

“Getting into the final round was unexpected as a first-year PhD student with only preliminary work, but I found that the constructive feedback has been useful and encouraging,” said finalist Amber Michelle Hill.

“I try not to think about it as a competition, but as a valuable experience to improve my communication skills.”

ACS: Everyone returned after a lunch reception to hear two presentations delivered by Arunthathi Pushparajasekaran, representing the MSc students, and Philip Smethurst, from the PhD group. Both topics were not in my field but I thoroughly enjoyed hearing them!

This was followed by the guest lecture ‘Decisions and actions in human sensorimotor control’ given by Professor Daniel Wolpert, head of the Sensorimotor Learning Group at the University of Cambridge.

It was a very engaging talk, and he presented some intriguing experiments on decision-making and action (to find out more, click here: http://cbl.eng.cam.ac.uk/pub/Public/Wolpert/Publications/SelShaWol12.pdf).

Following the talk, we had the opportunity to interview Professor Wolpert about his work. (You can read the full interview here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/slms/slms-news/neuroscience/12032902-queen-square-symposium-interview)

As the event drew to a close, we caught up with Helen Crehan and Elizabeth Galizia, this year’s Co-Chairs for the QS student committee.

“It was a great day for science at Queen Square. It was heartening to see such an enthusiastic response, not only from PhD students but from MSc and clinical students also. We hope the bar is continuously raised, and look forward to attending the event next year.” We certainly will be there as well!

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