Annual McGill Biomedical Graduate Conference a hit among student researchers

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The 14th Annual McGill Biomedical Graduate Conference (AMBGC) took place this past Thursday, March 13 at the Holiday Inn in Montreal. The conference aimed to provide an encouraging and stimulating environment for students to present and discuss their work in biomedical research with other like-minded individuals from around McGill.

This symposium was unique as it was organized in entirety by the Experimental Medicine Graduate Student Society (EMGSS), one of the most sizeable graduate programs at McGill.

“It’s the largest student-run conference in Quebec; everything is organized by students, for students,” said Bharat Srinivasa, president of the EMGSS.

This year’s AMBGC drew in over 100 participants presenting posters and talks spanning numerous biomedical topics, including neuroscience, infection and immunity, and oncology. The oral and poster presentations were judged by scientists and experts in the field, including former director of EMGSS, Hugh Bennett.

“The oral presentations have been very high quality—the best I’ve seen yet,” Bennett said. “The posters [were] also very high [in] quality; the students are all so enthusiastic.”

The judges were not the only ones with high praises for the event. Many students enjoyed the accessibility of the conference, in particular with the presence of the Graduate/Undergraduate Proposal category, which welcomed new students who have not yet gathered enough data to present at other conferences but still wanted the opportunity to practice their presentation skills.

“[The AMBGC] is very open and available to students,” explained Yaakov Stern, a second year Masters student at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre. “I find that it’s often very difficult to get your research out, so this [conference] is very helpful to break out into the larger community and see what other people are doing.”

The AMBGC also boasted free registration for all attendees, which is rare in professional scientific conferences that offer a full day of activities including refreshments and lunch. In order to deliver a high-quality event to attendees, the EMGSS raised money from academic and corporate sponsors like STEMCELL Technologies and MédiMabs, which had booths set up throughout the day in order to converse with students about offered research products and services.

Even for seasoned student researchers, the AMBGC represented a refreshing change to the usual fast pace of larger conferences.

“It’s small enough that you can actually interact with other grad students. Some of the bigger conferences that I’ve been to were kind of intimidating,” said Vicki Leung, a PhD student in the Department of Human Genetics.

Leung presented her findings on Vangl2, a planar cell polarity protein that was found to be important in directing optic nerve development in the retina of the eye. Although this was her first oral presentation, Leung was selected by the judges as the best talk of the event, receiving a $500 dollar cash prize.

PhD student Naomi Li, winner of the best poster award in the Oncology category, praised the structure and broad scope of the conference.

“It’s my first time here, and it’s really well organized,” explained Li. “I like that it covers a wide spectrum of research areas. Most conferences are very narrow [in scope]—they just focus on one thing.”

This year’s AMBGC showcased some of the best in student biomedical research in Montreal. It allowed for both new and experienced student researchers to network and learn more about the exciting work that is being done right in their own backyard.