Perspectives from an intern: tips for your first scientific conference
Traditional internship roles have minimal company travel. At most, you expect to travel the length from your desk to the coffee machine. My COMPASS internship ended a little differently: I was fortunate enough to travel to New Orleans for the very first International Society of Psychedelic Research (ISRP) conference. Here’s what I learned:
Tip 1) Be prepared
The inaugural meeting of the ISRP represents a key moment in the so-called ‘psychedelic renaissance’. I was excited but nervous. I had little expertise to contribute. Hopefully my interest and curiosity could add to the mycelium of psychedelic research.
My first tip is to be prepared: it is crucial to be an informed audience member. Especially because you have the opportunity to talk to researchers in person. Looking back, I wish I had been even more proactive and written questions beforehand for speakers.
Tip 2) Don’t be shy
I had so many questions but didn’t know how to ask them. Drummond, a fellow intern who joined me at the conference, had great advice: “just start by asking people what they thought about the last talk.”A highlight of the conference was the breakout sessions and talking to other attendees. I met physicians, researchers, policymakers, therapists and consultants, each with a different expertise and perspective.
The most important thing at conferences is the people: be curious, open and honest. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
One of the most exciting conversations I had was at the end of the second day. We shared a big table in a well-lit Cajun Café with some researchers and physicians we met at the conference. Theorising, debating and philosophising across topics of science, mental health and consciousness itself, seasoned an already well-seasoned meal.
Tip 3) Have fun!
The final set of talks on the final day detailed the potential use of psychedelics to treat substance-use disorder. The clinical findings of the pilot studies were truly promising. It was a great note to end the day and the conference.
The COMPASS crew celebrated the end of the conference by walking down the (in)famous Bourbon Street, where the colonial architecture is juxtaposed with a youthful exuberance and energy. Perhaps the character of Bourbon Street and New Orleans made this city the perfect setting for the very first ISRP. An old wearied science beleaguered by the complexities of the brain and mind ignited by the promise of a ‘new’ line of inquiry. It is a great privilege to be part of a promising field of science. It is an even greater privilege to do so with such a great team.
By Rahul Sood