I never need an excuse to take a day off from the office, but the Brisbane Life Sciences Early Career Researchers (ECR) Symposium or BLiSS seemed like an especially productive, day-away-from-the-office opportunity. The professional quality of this one-day symposium organized by ECRS for ECRs from all over Brisbane was impressive and although most of the topics were cell biology/biomedically-centric from a straight-up ecologist’s perspective I still got a lot of value from the day.
The plenary speaker, Prof Marilyn Renfree, is marsupial development expert and I am always keen to hear more about the unique Australian flora and fauna, an interest that takes a backseat during a PhD. The morning panel on ‘How to Survive as a Scientist’ was enlightening, divulging innate pearls of wisdom with some novel insights. As a ‘finishing’ postgrad, it was interesting to note that a lot of ECRs seem to be concerned with supervisor relationships: when to stand your ground on a dispute and is it worth calling it quits if it is not going well and the job market is bad? Some concerns do not change post-PhD! Many of these things are context dependent, but it was advised that burning bridges is never optimal and if your supervisor is not turning out to be your desired mentor than look for one elsewhere.
The infiltration of knowledge continued with the talks where I learned how you sleep deprive a fruit fly (blast air at it every 20s) and how you measure its focus (it involves a lot of flashing lights), in addition to AGE proteins in food processing, biophysical tests for mental illnesses, and ultrasound as a new diagnostic tool for osteoporosis. The poster sessions literally glowed thanks to the amazing facilities at the Cube at QUT.
The ‘Gender Equity’ afternoon panel is a topic ubiquitous in academia for good reason, yet the frustrating thing is that they tend to be depressing. We have made a lot of ground in the past decades, yet there is still a lot more to cover to get to ‘equity’. There were some concrete examples of tactics and areas to improve such as an engineering firm realizing that its point of entry into the company (hard manual labor positions) was not conducive to females entering and progressing within the company. Also, the framing of selection criteria could be improved to facilitate equal hiring, although never having been on a selection committee, an example would have been beneficial. Personal anecdotes on how to deal with gender in interviews such as being questioned about maternity leave related publication gap (who’s publication record does not have gaps?) emphasize that respectfully addressing these issues in situ is essential as it brings awareness and hopefully changes to the issue.
Despite the majority of presentations not being within my ‘area of study’ the symposium was well worth my time. I caught up with friends and met new people outside of my uni bubble. At the social, a koala chlamydia epidemiologist confirmed that the rumors are (somewhat) true. There is indeed a chlamydia epidemic with 80% of these critters infected. As something of a disease nerd (Contagion anyone?) this is astonishing! In fact, I heard a lot about chlamydia during the symposium...
The overwhelming support for the event in terms of sponsors, number of unis and institutes represented, and esteemed panelists and speakers show that these communities really embrace the opportunities and challenges facing ECRs in a greater climate where we may not feel so valued. ECRs are the future of science, academia, universities, industries, and governments and the ECR community created here in Brisbane is something to be proud of. A huge thanks to the sponsors, the Cube, the organizing committee, and fellow ECRs for a day of BLiSS and looking forward to the next year!