At the beginning of July I was lucky enough to be given the chance to attend and present a poster at the British Association of Cancer researchers conference in Bristol. The theme was the tumour microenvironment (TME), and since my work at Medimmune had been focused on immune profiling different TME in mouse tumour models it was the perfect chance. Although pharma/biotech companies aren’t as publication focused, it is still beneficial for collaboration opportunities and advertisement. On top of this, the talks and posters can be really informative and spark a lot of ideas.
This conference was a slightly smaller one so an excellent opportunity for my first conference. I was really nervous knowing I would be one of the youngest attendees and was worried it would all be too over my head, not to mention what do you wear! I attended with my line manager, which took a lot of the pressure off. It really hit me when we had to go collect our badges on the first morning, and after attaching it to my (specially purchased) blazer I felt really excited for the day ahead.
As I sat down for the first few talks in a room full of my professional idols I felt really privileged to be there as an undergraduate. One of the responsibilities of attending was the make sure there was detailed notes to report back to everyone. At first this made me feel pretty pressured – they would be sent out to the whole of my department, what if I didn’t understand and missed something important?! In reality I was pleasantly surprised that I followed the majority of the talks and it actually helped my understanding to write notes. The healthy supply of coffee also helped!
Next, it was time for the first poster session. It was time to shine! I knew my work and poster inside out but when your asked to go through it its easy to forget bits. The other difficulty is aiming your explanation at the right level – although this was an oncology specific conference not everyone specializes in immunology or in vivo models. I found it was best to start off by saying “stop me if I’m going too fast/being too obvious” to avoid insulting anyone. Once I got into the swing of it though it was really fun. I love talking and especially love talking about my work so the experience was great. I got some really great feedback and new ideas, and it was really assuring to have top lab heads writing notes about the things you were saying! I finished the session on a real buzz, ready for the next set of talks.
In the evening we had a lovely dinner on HMS Belfast in Bristol docks. It was an brilliant evening and I had the pleasure of sitting with some intelligent, interesting and funny oncologists from the likes of Cambridge, St Bart’s and Nijmegen. If you had told me a year ago I would be discussing the difficulties of modelling cancer with the head of a top tumour immunology institute I would not have believed you! The food was lovely which was a bonus, and the HMS Belfast was a beautiful place.
On the final day I felt really in the swing of things, and looked forward to the keynote speech from the one and only Doug Hanahan from the Hallmarks of Cancer fame – a real celebrity in my eyes! It was another fantastic day full of stimulating talks and I got to speak again to people from the day before in a more casual environment – I was lucky enough to get some potential PhD offers!
Overall I had an amazing first conference experience and was pleased to have great feedback reported to my team. It has really spurred me on to keep on working hard and hopefully one day I could be giving the keynote lecture!