stem cells in their environment

The 1st Genetics & Molecular Medicine PhD Symposium

21 June 2016
By Ashley Ames-Draycott

Although we work high up in the clouds on the 28th floor of Guy's Hospital, the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine is also part of a wider King's 'family' of departments – the Division of Genetics & Molecular Medicine. Consequently, it was a welcome opportunity for all of the Centre's PhD Students (and some 'presentation-judging' post-docs) to attend the first ever Genetics & Molecular Medicine PhD Symposium on 15th June.

Leaving the lab behind in a state of rare serenity, we embarked on our trip to St Thomas' Hospital. I think it's fair to say that we were all astounded by the grandeur of the Grade II listed, chandelier-lit Governor's Hall hidden within, that served as the symposium venue.

The day started off with a welcome reception of hot drinks and delicious pastries (big thumbs up to the organising committee for knowing the importance of keeping scientists well caffeinated and providing a happy filled tummy), before a welcoming address by our interim Head of Division, Professor Rebecca Oakey.

The symposium itself was kindly sponsored by the Sam Saxena Foundation, which was co-founded by King's own Dr Alka Saxena and her husband Manjul in memory of their son. Alka gave an extremely touching speech on the value of life and the passion their son had had fighting for elimination of food poverty and the availability of education for all. The foundation works to honour Sam by supporting these causes. You can read more about it here.

The rest of the morning was filled with short talks by a selection of the Division's final year PhD students, as well as a diverse array of posters. It was great to hear about some of the other research taking place in the Division, ranging from studies covering in vitro fertilisation to erythema in different skin types. We even had the pleasure of listening to one of our Wattlab members, Stephanie Telerman, giving us an update on her Blimp1 work, and Centre member Perrine Pluchon discuss her novel culture platform for the study of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

(Anecdotal side note – we are now aware that the party-like roars which reverberated through the time-honoured hall walls in the mid-morning were that of bystanders as Nigel Farage's flotilla passed by on the Thames…)

Lunch permitted some time for scientific discussion (and EU Referendum debates, as the scientific community is very concerned about the outcome), before starting the afternoon sessions of talks and posters.

The day was rounded off by talks from two guest speakers. Hilary Davies, a current Royal Literary Fellow at King's College London, provided an alternate look at 'Learning to be a Leader' from her perspective outside of science. The keynote speaker, Professor John Todd from the University of Cambridge, drew on his own experiences to deliver a charismatic presentation of his advice for young scientists. His passion about the importance of data quality (controls, controls, controls!), integrity, and the benefits of dependable collaborators was very clear. Of particular interest was his view that you should not necessarily pursue that which you are most passionate about, but instead hone your skills to focus on something meaningful - he believes that passion will follow. Wherever you stand on that view, it's certainly an interesting outlook.

The closing remarks were accompanied by an awards ceremony. First prize for the ‘best Presentation’ was collected by the Centre’s own Perrine Pluchon, and Wattlab’s Arsham Ghahramani received the Poster prize for ‘clarity of content’ – both very well deserved - congratulations!

Largely, the first ever Genetics & Molecular Medicine PhD Symposium was a great success (hats off to the organising committee). Of course, no science symposium would be complete without an evening drinks reception. Free-flowing wine and an abundance of PhD students – I'll wrap the blog up here... Looking forward to next year!

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