WireUp - connecting the Neuroscience PhD community of the MPS

by Doris Hermes & Nikolai Hörmann

In May 2019, the first WireUp symposium (https://www.neuro.mpg.de/wireUp) took place at the Max-Planck Institute of Neurobiology (MPIN) in Martinsried, Germany, to connect graduate researchers from neuroscience-focused Max Planck Institutes (MPIs). Over sixty participants from eleven MPIs took part in the meeting to share and communicate their research. The three-day symposium started with a keynote lecture by Alexander Borst, one of the directors at the MPIN, giving insight to current research done in his group “Circuits - Computation - Models”. The lecture was followed by the first poster session with lots of discussions which were continued after the barbeque in the evening. On day two, a variety of talks from graduate researchers of the neuroscience-focused MPIs were presented, and the second poster session took place. Afterwards, the attendees toured the labs where they checked how zebrafish are used in research and how a Drosophila brain looks like through 3D glasses. In the evening, the institute’s band played and all attendees could share their different PhD experiences over pizza. The last day of the symposium started with more talks by graduate researchers and was followed by a mentorship session with Wolf Singer, emeritus director at the MPI for Brain Research and Senior fellow at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The mentorship session was full of vivid discussions about science before the digital era, and it gave the opportunity to ask questions. In the end,  best poster and best talk were awarded with a WireUp hoodie and everybody interested could go on a Munich city tour. 

Organizing a new symposium from scratch is not easy. One of the initiators and organizers, Nikolai Hörmann, a graduate researcher in Alexander Borst’s lab at the MPIN, shares his experience, starting from conceptualisation to the successful organization of the WireUP symposium. Moreover, he would also like to encourage other graduate researchers to roll up their sleeves and organize a symposium of their interest as well.

Nikolai reports: “During the 2018 PhDnet meeting, the need for a neuroscience-focused symposium was raised by several PhD representatives. Our aim was to bring together graduate researchers from different neuroscience-focused MPIs in order to share scientific results, receive input from their peers, and extend their own network in the scientific community. Notably, the symposium was modelled after the famous Gordon Research Conferences (https://www.grc.org) with their preceding seminars only for early career researchers. As the Max Planck Neuro meeting of PIs was taking place in Munich in May 2019, we wanted to have our satellite meeting for graduate researchers around that time as well. More importantly, the established infrastructure and the facilities of the MPS could help promote and support the event.”

Nikolai continues: “Quickly, the organizing committee decided to set up the first WireUp in Munich. The first step was to convince the directors of the MPIN of our endeavour. By thoughtfully writing a concise and coherent proposal and after a few discussions the symposium was approved. We had about four months left for the organization before the symposium was supposed to take place. Luckily, graduate researchers from our institute were highly motivated to help and join the organizing committee. We assigned roles for advertisement, finance, catering and programme coordination with two people in each team. As all positions were filled, we could finally start with the actual organisation. Our committee was very productive, because everyone worked independently and updated the rest during our weekly meetings. We kept track of the topics that were discussed and made a list of tasks that needed to be taken care of. Additionally, we got invaluable support from our graphics team, our local administration, and the cafeteria. Soon, the preliminary programme was designed, the funding secured and we only had to wait for people to sign up. With the help of PhD representatives at the different institutes, PIs of the MP Neuro Meeting and IMPRS coordinators the advertising was effective in attracting graduate researchers allowing us to fill the slots for the talks and arranging the poster session in a reasonable way. The preparations were completed and the symposium could start. The three days past by in what felt like a blink of an eye. Our last task was to ask for an honest opinion of the conference by the attendees. To our relief, the feedback ledus to believe that it was a success and we are hoping that this was not the last of its kind.”

“From my personal point of view”, Nikolai reminisces, “organizing the symposium might have led to some lack of sleep and additional work, but overall, I gained a lot of experience. I had to plan each working day carefully to be more productive, because there was a lot to be done within those four months. I also learned to value the good communication in our organising committee and how important it is to assign responsibilities. Furthermore, I realised that a positive attitude and a motivated organizing committee where everyone’s opinion and thoughts are equally valued help to overcome the hurdles of setting up such a symposium. Bringing the first WireUp symposium to life was an experience I would not have wanted to miss and I would encourage any graduate student to start organizing their own symposium as well! ”

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