Stepping off the plane, I felt completely alone. Although I had been to international conferences before, this was by far the biggest and the only one where I knew nobody, in a foreign country with a language that I struggled to grasp.
The 44th FEBS Congress was held in Krakow, Poland this year, and I’d been fortunate to win sponsorship from the Biochemical Society. Luckier still, I was able to attend the Young Scientists’ Forum (YSF) for a few days before the main Congress. This brought together around 100 early-career investigators from all over Europe, inviting us to share our work and learn from others via talks and posters. I presented a 15-minute talk, which I was a little nervous about, because I had come to realise that my work was quite different to most of the others – incorporating clinical and translational aspects alongside the biochemistry. But I got some great comments and people seemed to find it a refreshing change!
Amongst the invited speakers there were also a number of careers and skills sessions, incorporating useful tips and tricks such as how to apply for a Fellowship or write a good CV. These were extremely useful, however, the most useful thing I found at the YSF was the abundance of networking opportunities. At first, I was well aware of being alone, the sole representative of my university and one of a very few native English speakers.
However, because of the YSF, I quickly realised that everyone else was in the same boat and after that, it was amazingly easy to chat and make new friends. The party in the Wieliczka Salt Mines definitely helped with that!
I was so glad for this aspect of the trip when the main Congress finally came around because the size of it (almost 2000 delegates!) meant it would have been very easy to be lost in the crowd. This wasn’t the case though, because everywhere you would see young people giving each other the confidence to speak to more experienced researchers, a network that the YSF helped to establish.
From the start, the FEBS Congress was characterised by world-class research, with lectures given by Nobel Prize winners and leading experts in their fields. There was such a variety of sessions that it was tricky to decide which to go to, not even including the specialised sessions focusing on topics such as gender issues, meaning my schedule was stuffed! Because of the confidence boost by the YSF, I threw myself into everything, attending a women in science lunch, enthusiastically presenting a poster and pursuing new connections. I came back to the UK exhausted but with a huge list of people to contact and papers to read. And even better, I have a new set of friends who I’ll be happy to share the next stages of a scientific career with.
About the author: Nicola Edwards is a PhD student in the Cardiovascular Research Group - Division of Biomedical Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University.