University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign graduate student Shriyaa Mittal shares her experience planning and hosting a Biophysical Society-sponsored networking event with five other graduate students.
It all started with an email. Upon submitting an abstract to the 2017 Biophysical Society Annual Meeting, I joined the society as a member. Following this, I started receiving the monthly member update in my inbox broadcasting updates on thematic meetings, the upcoming annual meeting at New Orleans, events regarding science advocacy and a multitude of opportunities for scientists to get involved. One such possibility was to blog at the Annual Meeting, I applied and was chosen to be a guest blogger! In another one of these emails, I saw an announcement for a Mini-Grant: Call for 2017 Networking Events.
The opportunity for a networking event around biophysics, which could be financially supported by the Biophysical Society, seemed ideal. We had a graduate student body at our university called the Illinois Biophysics Society, but due to lack of sponsorship participation was lacking. There was little cohesion among biophysics grad students, primarily due to their scattered research labs and offices across the university campus. Further, in the past few students had been interested in putting together an event.
The mini-grant questionnaire had specific questions regarding the design of the proposed event, budgeting, registration, and advertising. Having had no previous experience with event planning, I took inspiration from my Dad’s involvement in social activities which I had seen growing up. I put myself in his shoes and spent a few hours on a weekend writing up a proposal for a half-day networking event on the University of Illinois campus. Not expecting to hear back, I forgot about it - until a couple of months later, when the Biophysical Society awarded the grant to organize the Biophysics Graduate Research and Networking Symposium. In hindsight, it was the not the most creative proposed title, but we stuck with it.
A team of five other biophysics grad students and I started planning the symposium. We had some huge tasks ahead - finalizing the date and structure of the event, creating a flyer and registration form, and securing speakers. As part of the symposium, we decided to conduct a poster presentation competition for grad students which would be judged by post-docs at the university, followed by faculty talks. Through these short talks by biophysics professors, we hoped to receive guidance on the non-research aspects of an academic career which could be useful to all students. Two popular professors, Dr. Martin Gruebele and Dr. Paul Selvin, graciously agreed to be our speakers.
Weekly meetings, countless when-to-meet-polls, a dozen Google Drive documents and tens of emails daily swiftly lead us to the day prior to the event. On a Sunday evening, all of us assembled to print out poster award certificates, lunch coupons, judging criteria handouts, and sign-up sheets. I will admit to not sleeping well that night, troubled with unfounded nightmares about which part of my responsibilities I had forgotten about. On the day of the symposium, we were delighted to welcome 20 poster presenters, a number that we had not anticipated when we began advertising the symposium. At some point, we even had a student presenting his research to a judge with his poster spread out on the lunch table. Fortunately, he cleared up the table before lunch arrived! The symposium was much appreciated by the grad students for whom it was primarily intended. We hope that the Illinois Biophysics Society will be able to conduct such a symposium annually.
The organizers Roshni Bano, Mayank Boob, Alex Moffett, Eric Shinn and myself, are grateful to the Biophysical Society for sponsorship and to Caitlin Simpson, whose helped enable us to pilot the Biophysics Graduate Research and Networking Symposium. Coming soon, Illinois Biophysics Society has another event Jeopardy and Pizza, again provided for by the Biophysical Society. Gladly, this title is not so clichéd as the previous one!
Shriyaa Mittal is a graduate student at the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She studies proteins using molecular dynamics simulations and other theoretical modeling frameworks. You can follow her on twitter @shriyaamittal. She thanks Alex Moffett for editorial help on this blog post.