Practicing networking at the Lake Conference

My name is Reetta Ojala, and I am finishing my Master´s studies in neuroscience at the University of Helsinki. I am interested in decision making and I was very fortunate to be able to write my thesis in Nelson Totah’s lab. My thesis was about beta oscillations’ role in stopping a movement. Nelson suggested that me and my colleagues working on the same topic would go to the ‘Lake Conference: Sensation and action’ in Switzerland to present our results in poster form. We applied and got accepted and then as a cherry on top, I also got the HiLIFE Trainee conference grant to support my journey. I was very excited to hear interesting talks about this topic, but at the same time, I was very nervous about the mixing and mingling part of the conference. I would want to make connections, but I am very shy to start conversations. I was also terrified of presenting my poster. I decided to take this trip as a  practice to improve my social and presentation skills.

The location by the Lake Thun was beautiful.

We arrived in Thun a day before the scientific program started, so we had some time to adjust and to see the surroundings a bit. This turned out to be a good decision, as the conference days were long and tiring, because there were so many interesting topics; transformation of sensory evidence into action, what role do emotions have between sensation and action, large-scale neuronal computations and much more.

At first, I felt overwhelmed in the middle of all the socializing action. Luckily, I was not there alone, and my colleague dragged me to meet other people. We are both starting our PhD projects in the same lab soon and we got to know other PhD students that are a little further in their studies. I ended up having very vivid conversation with one young woman about animal research ethics, which is very close to my heart. In the end I exchanged contact information with quite a few other students too.

Me and my colleague Joana Doutel Figueira

In the last evening, it was time to face my biggest fear, the poster presentation. It started in the worst possible way. A big name in the field came to hear me. I felt my cheeks turn red and I started to stammer. I took a deep breath, gathered myself and started talking more slowly. A little voice in the back of my brain was shouting that this person knows so much more than me; how should I present all this? But I remembered my PI’s words. This is my work, and I am the expert on it. So, I just explained everything, some parts of the analysis more briefly. I think the professor saw my struggle. He was very friendly and made some very good questions and gave constructive feedback. We talked for a while and after he left, I wrote down the comments to go through them later. After that it was much easier to present to the other students.

I am very happy that I had this opportunity. And I am proud of myself for overcoming my fears and talking to people. I got new ideas for my project and new perspectives on this area of research. The scientific talks and the conversations with others made me feel that I am on the right path in my life. I want to encourage all the students to apply to conferences! The information load will be heavy, but the point is not to take every talk as a lecture. It is more about getting inspiration and making connections, meeting other people who are interested in the same things that you are. I surprised myself positively, but there is still much to learn. Maybe next time I dare to go to talk to the PI whose talk I found totally fascinating.

Reetta Ojala