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When Ph.D. students organize a conference for other Ph.D. students
by staff
24 November 2014

A reportage about the event held in Pesaro with the support of the Association of Cell Biology and Differentiation (ABCD) together with the Italian Society of Biophysics and Molecular Biology (SIBBM).

Pesaro (Italy) - Three days, 70 PhD students, 16 talks and more than 50 poster presentations ranging from cell cycle regulation to cancer metabolism, neurodegenerative disorders and epigenetics. The Joint National PhD Meeting 2014 offered a variety of scientific topics with one common denominator: the PhD student’s point of view. Indeed, not only did the students give animated presentations and discussions, but they arranged the event with the support of some ABCD and SIBBM senior members. A scientific committee composed of six PhD students from different Italian universities worked for several months, selecting the abstracts and defining the program. “A job harder than it may seem”, as one of them, Advait Subramanian (University of Naples), stated, “but most of all an occasion for having a different point of view on science”.

The young committee also selected two keynote speakers: Daniela Corda (National Research Council, Naples - watch the interview) who gave an overview on the physiological meaning of ADP-ribosylation, and Vincenzo Bronte (University of Verona), who talked about the role of myeloid-derived suppressor cells in cancer. For the students, the dialogue with the senior scientists was unusually fruitful, both during and after the conference. An informal conversation with Daniela Corda gave rise to the idea of an off-program talk. In fact she agreed to say few words about the Charter for Researchers, which she participated in drafting for the European Commission: a precious opportunity to hear about a document, still little-known among scientists, formally defining rights and duties of both researchers and employers. From pension rights to maternity leave, career development paths and ethical principles, the Charter for Researchers introduces the simple but not obvious concept that “scientists are workers”.


“This meeting has been the first occasion to present my data in front of a broad audience”, Maria Rosaria Mollo (University of Naples) said. But, maybe even more importantly, for most of the students it was the first time they listened to a formal lecture about how to present data. In fact Michael John, lecturer in Communication Skills at Vita-Salute University in Milan (watch the interview), gave an engaging talk about the most common mistakes in communicating science. “Don’t give anything for granted, pay attention to details, engage your audience, show passion for what you are doing”: this was what he suggested, giving also new criteria to evaluate the following presentations.

The conference has represented, above all, the middle ground for a meeting of different perspectives (watch the video): an opportunity for the students, who had the chance to share data and get feedback on their work; a challenge for the senior scientists, who had to keep up with eager and demanding young counterparts. “A win-win situation,” as remarked by a member of the young scientific committee Benedetta Nicolis Di Robilant (San Raffaele Institute, Milan - watch the interview), “in which both speakers and audience, juniors and seniors had something to learn”.