NCBS Annual Talks Feedback

Monday, January 7th, 2013

With the Annual Talks finishing two days back, I sent out an email to our student, junior research felllow and postdoc mailing lists asking for comments. I have compiled the responses to date, while things are still fresh in our memory. One question focused on the new conference-style format: instead of every PI giving a talk, about half the faculty did, and there were also outside speakers. Please use the comment section below this article to add any further thoughts! All photos are by me, and are from the final day's poster session.

What were you favourite talks?

* I found Benny Shilo's talk good mainly because I could relate it to my research work. I also found Nicolas' talk and work very interesting though I don't do anything related.

* Favourite talks: Nicolas Gompel (really interesting work), Jayant (introduced comments which made his talk lively), Krushnamegh (hearing him for the first time) and Pedro (very different work and model system, also highly organized presentation) in that order.


* My favourite talk was Madhu's. It was fantastic on two counts. His talk was crisp, very polished, rich on content, smoothly delivered - all those things you expect and want from a good science talk (on those counts, Mukund's was a close second). More importantly though, I felt really happy after the talk because his matter is very math-ie. Yet he conveyed it extremely effectively, to a very non-mathie audience - while giving us a feel for all the mathematical complexity underlying the smooth talk. What was even cooler was that I saw his talk two years ago as well. It was very well-polished then as well, but quite equation-dense. I came out of that talk feeling like I had just had a small taste of what was really going on in his work. This was good - but ultimately, unsatisfying. In that context, to see his talk this year was a thorough pleasure! Something good evolved into something really excellent and I was there when it happened! Very satisfying.

How did you find the experience of the poster sessions, particularly your own (if you did one)?

* In general, I had a really nice time this year like all other years from the poster sessions. I got important feedback on my poster from people who are not working in my field and from whom I thought might not be interested in my work. I got to see a lot of other posters outside my field and interestingly the scientific discussion was much more productive with the posters in front. It was very exciting to learn so many things in so short time from the poster sessions.

* As far as the poster sessions are concerned, I was very positively touched by the enthusiastic and and engaged discussions that I observed. Especially to have two blocks in the afternoon and in the evening was nice, even though a bit exhausting. Then again the efforts of the evening session were paid back by some beer support which I appreciated a lot. Because I am sure that a less formal poster discussion with a cool beer can also lead to new insights.

* The one problem that I had was that there were way too many posters, maybe they could limit the number of posters
per lab or if a PI is one of the speakers, they should not have a poster. That way at least people can go through most of the posters in the session and find out what is happening in NCBS instead of getting overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.

* During poster session I got to know many people and discuss their work which was awesome. I made many new friends as well.

* I think the poster session is a good place to get a yearly reminder of what people in other labs in the institute are doing. We can also spend a lot of time discussing the work we are interested in.

* About my poster in particular - it was interesting to explain the basics to new enthusiastic students who are attending the Annual Talks for the first time and at the same time getting suggestions from older students and PIs.

* This year had a crop of really good posters and people seem to be getting better at presenting their work to students from other fields of biology. Some of the students were outstanding in their enthusiasm and style of presenting even just before dinner! Even if it was taxing and saturating for me, I understand that it must've been an ordeal for the presenters. There were just too many posters to cover in three days, and I ended up seeing about half despite spending almost all the allotted time in the colonnade!

Did you interact with visitors, and if so, how was that?

* The student interactive session during the banquet was fun, we discussed a wide variety of topics from banyan trees to snakes on campus but I guess that also depends on who the visitor was. I heard some people were rather bored during their session.

* I did get to interact with visitors especially on two dinner occasions, however we did not discuss science. However, it still was fun to know their views on varied topics from politics to sports to time management. I also liked the pattern of seating for annual banquet as well since it made sure that people don't form the same old hubs and get to interact with other people. The people on a single table were from different labs and different years so I did like it.

* I got to interact with Albert Libschaber over dinner and Pedro after his talk. The science we discussed was definitely interesting, importantly,  I find they have some important suggestions to make, but we do not know how to go about implementing these.

* Yes, I was assigned a dinner table with one of the visitors and we had a nice informal discussion. We covered aspects of her work, with brief forays into the work that others at the table were doing, science in general, socio-politics, the impact and relevance of science in our society, as well as more practical matters like funding internationally and locally.

If you had attended one of the old-style annual talk meetings (i.e. 2011 and before), how did you think the new format compared?

2013 award

* In NCBS, there is no dearth of conferences and talks that have a "theme meeting". Also most of us go to such conferences at least once/twice a year. So do we really need a "theme meeting" in place of annual talks? Well the faculty may like it as most them get to escape from an annual task of representing their lab to their own people. But for students, previously it was more like an annual fest, with a feeling of integration - a lot more enthusiasm was there before to attend the talks of each faculty and discuss over food how each of them is performing. It was also very clear then who was joining NCBS and who was leaving. I have been here for last 4 years and with the abrupt growth of NCBS I hardly know people who joined in last one and half years! So I feel in the annual talks it makes more sense to include every faculty and representative posters from their labs. I gained more from the posters than the talks, though some of them were really nice. The overcrowded and suffocating auditorium gave me a headache everyday. The sound and image quality was really bad on the broadcast screen.

* I thought the annual talks were great and I quite like the theme concept.

* I fear a bit that many students didn't show up for the talks because they think it is not their field of research. Otherwise, I can understand that there are maybe too many PIs to have a presentation from each of them.

* I liked the new format quite a lot as it covered the whole width and breadth of biology. However, with only one specific topic being chosen, I don't know how much that helps, since after a while everything seems the same. Also I liked that the number of talks was quite manageable and I could easily attend all of them. In a nutshell I liked the variety of talks and their manageable number.

* The new conference format is just much more interesting.


* The interleaving of local PIs and visitors makes it better. In my case, I was also interested in listening to the new PIs like Deepa and Krishnamegh since I hadn't heard them before. It is better than having talks by all PIs because invariably at least half the talk ends up being a repetition from the previous year. And we don't get much time to dwell on what has been said and ask questions.

* I found this format better than the earlier format: there was the novelty factor from the invited speakers and the anticipation of wanting to hear scientists on campus. I feel those faculty who have not spoken at the annual talks should be asked to present their lab's work in a regular annual work seminar.

* I don't think the speakers really tried to fit their talk into the theme of "control", save for a few. There could be various reasons for this, but the final outcome meant that we heard talks which were more or less the same as in the old format, only picking out the new crop of faculty and some of the older ones. I guess even under those restrictions, these three days flew by, and I guess the theme might be too vague since as Madhu pointed out, few people even introduced the definitions of 'control'.

* Do you have any suggestions for improving next year's conference?

* I didn't think the conference theme was specific enough. Almost all research in biology can be related to some form of Control in Biological Systems.

* A theme for the next meeting: responses/ responsivity across multiple levels of organization.

* I know it's asking too much from the poster-presenting students, but despite being given 4 hours each day, I couldn't cover more than half the posters and might have missed out on a few good ones. This isn't a solution, just a comment on how it went this year with nearly 135 posters, coming to about 45 posters a day! I know it's not feasible to ask them to present for a day more or more hours on the same day, since it can be very exhausting.
About the rest of the conference, I would like it if the speakers were told about the theme and tried to tailor their talks around it. Some of the speakers have given the talk or parts of it at various other locations, so, it's not asking too much given their experience to modify their talks so one can have a connection to the theme.




One more set of comments was

One more set of comments was added today to the main story above. They are located at the end of each block of comments.

Its very useful to see these

Its very useful to see these comments! I do think it will help us improve on the talks the next year and make sure that we have quality time and space for interactions.

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