“Are your genes to blame when your jeans don’t fit?” It’s a striking title and Dr Giles Yeo, from the University of Cambridge, certainly made an impression on his audience when he presented his research on the genetics of obesity.
Dr Yeo, Director of Genomics/Transcriptomics at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, was invited to give the keynote address of the inaugural MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC) postdoc retreat. He used a fair bit of data and lots of colourful anecdotes to help bring his talk to life.
He started his talk by describing an encounter he’d had with a fellow scientist, who accused him of giving fat people an excuse by focusing on their inherited genes as opposed to their behaviours.
He disagrees, and used his talk to explain why he thinks it is important to understand the genetic as well as the lifestyle factors that might influence obesity. “I took the opportunity to try and tackle some myths of obesity, and about how to actually tackle obesity as a problem,” said Dr Yeo.
The day-long event was organised by postdocs for postdocs, and took place last Thursday in the Alexander Fleming building at the Imperial College South Kensington campus. So what is it that makes such gatherings valuable? Dr Yeo believes it’s the fact that for at least some of the time more senior scientists are not around. This, he says, creates a certain freedom. He described it as a situation which allows postdocs to ask questions where they’re “not self-centred about asking stupid questions. Also, because they’re amongst their peers, it’s far better and is a far more useful exercise in terms of trying to discuss their science.”
Running a successful event focused on promoting interaction and building a community can be a difficult task, but that was the goal. Dr Angela Woods, a senior investigator scientist in the CSC’s Cellular Stress group, thought the retreat was really worthwhile, and was “gob-smacked” by how many new faces she saw in attendance. “The science was great, but I think the biggest benefit is networking and getting to know the community in which we work. Finding out what people are working on so you know who to approach when you want to speak specifically about an area of research that you’re unfamiliar with is invaluable.”
The day included talks and a poster session with postdocs sharing insights into their research, and presentations about public engagement, career development and mentoring. A “speed-dating your science” session brought a fun change of pace in the afternoon, with postdocs paired up for a 3-minute conversation before switching partners.
“The focus of the event was to bring the postdocs of the CSC closer, so they will interact more, network more and form a stronger postdoc community,” said Dr Katerina Papadopoulou, a postdoc in the Neuroplasticity and Disease group and one of the organisers of the retreat. “We got very positive feedback, which is motivation to do it again.”
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