Zooming forward as graduate student symposium goes virtual

A screenshot of the Monash BDI Graduate Student Symposium morning session. (Photo credit: Maddie Wemyss, sourced via Twitter.)

The 2020 online Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) Student Symposium was such a success that organisers are contemplating incorporating virtual components into the next event in 2022.

The biennial symposium, held on 25September, attracted 150 attendees who watched Monash BDI PhD students give oral and poster presentations about their research on Zoom before awards were announced at a closing session. It was the second time the symposium has been held; the first was in-person.

PhD student Tahnee Saunders, one of six committee members overseeing the all-day event, said it was a valuable opportunity for students to get together and showcase their work in front of an audience. “An important aspect of science is communicating your work, the more chances you get to practise that the better you get at it,” Ms Saunders said. Also on the organising committee were: Brady Cress, Liang Xie, Mandy Li, Samoda Rupasinghe and Giannie Barsha.

While not being able to meet in-person and a “lot of screen time” were drawbacks, holding the symposium online had advantages, including that participants could attend more flexibly, Ms Saunders said. “I think we might incorporate both in-person and virtual aspects to the program next time,” she said.

Meaghan Griffiths (Anatomy & Developmental Biology) presenting her 15min Talk. Photo Credit: Vivian Tran, sourced via Twitter)

A post-symposium survey indicated that participants and audience enjoyed the talks, and that being able to interact online with students across different departments at lunch time and the social hour using the Remo platform was appreciated.

“The day ran very smoothly and it was great to see so much engagement across the BDI,” one respondent commented. “I was very impressed with how well the symposium was translated to an online platform!” said another. “Excellent job organising and great involvement from students,” someone else said.

Poster sessions with Zoom ID log-ins worked well, Ms Saunders said.

Keynote speaker Professor Stephen Harrap from the University of Melbourne gave some pointers about things he’d learned throughout his career and advised students in question time to take up opportunities while being strategic about this.

Nicholas Choo (Risbridger lab) won best speaker award for his “stand-out” long (15-minute) talk about using patient-derived models to identify synergistic drug combinations for advanced prostate cancer.

“The challenge of this BDI symposium is that you are communicating to such a diverse audience; Nick did a brilliant job of having everyone on the same page in understanding what he was doing,” Ms Saunders said. According to Mr Choo, “The symposium was a wonderful event to share and celebrate the accomplishments of my fellow peers and colleagues.” Bob Leung (Greening Lab) was awarded second place.

Short talk, first prize winner, Rachel Farquhar with her laptop ready for an enthusiastic presentation of her PhD project. (Photo Credit: Rossjohn Lab, sourced via Twitter)

Rachel Farquhar (Rossjohn lab) won first place for her enthusiastic short talk (five minutes) entitled ‘The molecular mechanisms of T-cell receptor recognition of CD1b presenting self lipid antigens.’ Second place went to Yusun Jeon (Naderer lab). In the poster section, Mariam Bafit (O’Keeffe Lab) won first place and Kerry Mullan (Purcell Lab) second.

Ms Saunders thanked the 15 academics who gave their time to assess the sessions.

“I think the point of the Monash BDI is to bring together excellent science in one place and to promote cross collaboration, ultimately supporting discovery. Events like this allow us to share what we’re doing and see what others are doing and that can help foster the environment that the BDI’s striving for,” she said.

Director of the Monash BDI Graduate Program, Associate Professor Priscilla Johanesen, said this year’s symposium highlighted the high quality and diversity of research performed by graduate students from across Monash BDI. She commended the organising committee on the successful running of the event online and all who participated and contributed to its success.

Maddie Wemyss getting ready for her virtual poster session. (Photo Credit: Maddie Wemyss, sourced via Twitter)“Given all of the challenges of this year, it was inspiring to see the students from across the Institute come together as a community to deliver this symposium virtually,” Professor Johanesen said.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.