Janelia Workshop Recap

Last week I attended a Junior Scientist Workshop at the Janelia Research Campus on “Neural Circuits and Behavior”. When I applied for this workshop I had no idea what it was going to be like, but I assumed it would be basically like a normal conference except that only postdocs and students would be invited.

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image from the workshop website

Uhh, nope. It was nothing like any conference I’ve ever attended, and for sure the most stimulating and fun meeting I’ve been to. The key differences were:

1) There were only 25 of us (all students and postdocs) and we got to know each other really well. Saying goodbye felt like the end of summer camp. (Except that I never made that many friends at summer camp because I was too awkward and nerdy. Good thing I became a scientist.)

2) Most of the time was spent on group discussions instead of data presentations. And I don’t mean the fake “discussions” that occur at meetings with hundreds of attendees where random people from the audience ask questions to some panel of esteemed faculty. I mean a real discussion where nearly everyone is participating and conversing freely.

3) We all had to present our research in unconventional formats that highlighted ideas and approaches over data. We were encouraged to use a combination of chalk talk and powerpoint slide formats, which was great. The talks were grouped together to help us compare and contrast different approaches being used to address similar questions, and we often spent more time discussing people’s talks than on the talks themselves.

4) We all had to participate in “debates” on broad topics in neuroscience. Debate teams consisted of four people on each side, and we had to brainstorm and strategize with our team in advance. Also, we were all asked which side of the debate we believed and were usually assigned to argue for the opposite side, just to mix things up.

If anyone reading this is considering applying for the meeting next year, I highly recommend it—as long as you’re willing to put in the advance work and come with the energy and enthusiasm that it requires.

Conversely, if you’re someone who’s trying to organize a similar type of workshop, I’m happy to provide more details about the format. You could also contact the organizers, Vivek Jayaraman, Alla Karpova, and Josh Dudman, who did a great job in planning this workshop.

In the next few blog posts I’m going to write about some of the ideas and discussions that emerged from the debates, so stay tuned!


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