Life of a researcher: conference edition

Isabel Hofman

Wednesday 30th of January 2019
Today is the deadline! We have to submit our abstract for the 15th international MDS symposium in Copenhagen coming up in May. We are registered to go but we also look forward to sharing our own recent data with colleagues in our field. During the past week, my abstract has been bouncing back and forth between my supervisor, colleagues, and myself to make sure that it tells our research story in a clear and enticing way.

As first author I am responsible for submitting the abstract before the deadline today. And I am also home on the couch with the flu, feverish and miserable. Just barely awake, I am dutifully filling in all the online steps to ensure registration before 16:00. I notice a checkbox to make the abstract eligible for a research award. Yeah, sure.

Ok, finally all steps are done and I have my confirmation email. Back to bed to get rid of this flu.

Friday 22nd of March 2019
Reading my emails over breakfast. I got an email at 5:59 from the MDS 2019 symposium secretariat…Our abstract was selected for the research prize! Which means it will be highlighted in a separate session and get quite some attention. I should start preparing my short talk soon to present our findings in a clear way.

Friday 25th of April 2019
Time to practice my talk in front of the first big audience – the departmental seminar. The talk goes well, and I get some valuable input to further improve the presentation.

Tuesday 7th of May 2019
Ugh, maybe I cursed the conference by sending in the abstract with a fever because I have now caught a persistent cold, and we are leaving tomorrow morning. I decide to stay home and rest. Hopefully this will help me get ready for tomorrow.

Wednesday 8th of May 2019
My alarm clock goes.
Luckily the day of rest did me some good and I feel a lot better than yesterday.

We are taking the train to Copenhagen and are now well underway. We are passing through places like Tranås that even my Swedish colleague didn’t know existed.

We have arrived in Copenhagen where the weather is surprisingly pleasant! After dropping off our suitcases at the hotel, we make our way to the first session.

First day parallel ‘Workshops’
As at many conferences, the first day has a separate focus compared to the main program. At the MDS conference, the first day is composed of parallel workshops along different themes. I attend the ‘Basic Science’ workshop where researchers mostly focus on the state-of-the-art techniques they are using instead of their results. At the first break we are all desperately looking for coffee that is nowhere to be found…Luckily it is rolled out for the second break and we even get cookies! Re-energized the second half of the excellent program gets our full attention.

At the entrance of the conference, a board shows a list of all participants and the countries they have joined from.

An abundance of great food is served at the opening reception and there’s even a birthday cake for the 30th anniversary of the meeting.

We have a lab dinner at a cosy restaurant, but none of us can finish the generous meals following the food at the reception. We are also exhausted after the trip and the first day of the conference. Time to get a good night’s sleep before the early start tomorrow!

Thursday 9th of May and Friday 10th of May 2019
Some ambitious people get up early to take advantage of the gym facilities of the hotel. I am still battling my cold, so I only take advantage of the elaborate breakfast buffet before the conference starts at 8:00.

The conference rolls past us with sessions filled with exciting scientific and clinical talks. During the breaks, people walk in and out of the poster room where even more recent data is being presented and discussed. Companies that are active in our field contribute to the program with their own sponsored sessions. They have also sent delegates at various information stands in the break area. The most popular one has its own coffee and cookies and a virtual reality station that transports you into the bone marrow for an educational game.

My colleagues and collaborators plan various evening activities to explore everything Copenhagen has to offer, but I only explore all the Scandinavian channels on the TV in the hotel room. One evening I try to wrap my head around the Danish language, and the next I listen to the news in surprisingly understandable Norwegian. While relaxing and practicing my talk of course – I need to get ready for the last session on Saturday when the award winners are presenting.

Saturday 11th of May 2019
The final day of the conference has only two sessions and ends around lunch time. I have gotten over my cold just in time and am presenting in the final session before the closing words. I find a seat up front during the coffee break and take a moment to sneak up on stage to get a feel for what it will be like. A few moments later, the keynote speaker does the same thing as he is speaking still right before the award ceremony. Moments later, he takes us through the history of the field and into what is lacking still today in an inspiringly entertaining talk. I feel the whole room relax and my nerves dissipate. I get the last encouragement from a collaborator “Don’t be nervous. This is fun!” and I am called on stage in front of the plenary room and the sizable audience. The talk goes well and some pictures are taken with the event organizers.

The conference ends and people come by to say I did well. Including the audience member I was most hoping to please, my supervisor.

We have rushed to the station and grabbed a bite to eat to take the train back to Stockholm.

After a 7 hour trip, we arrive in Stockholm Central and separate to make our way home.

We all agreed this was an excellent symposium with great talks, meetings with collaborators and compliments for the venue. But we are also grateful for having Sunday to recover before the working week begins again, left with the traditional union of inspiration and exhaustion that follows a scientific conference.

Pictures were taken by me

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