DSAC Symposium 2016: A student's perspective

Amielle Moreno


Poster presenters around me rolled out their presentations as I arrived at my bulletin board. Unscrewing the top of my still new poster tube, it seemed smaller than it was at my last conference. As the image unfurled, first the knees, the red uniform and finally the undeniable face of 1990s Chicago Bulls All-Star Michel Jordan appeared. This was not my poster. This was my partner’s prized elementary school possession and I laughed at the drastic changes I would have to make to my elevator talk.

This daydream of mine, as well as intense preparation, are common part of the graduate school experience leading up to their poster or oral presentations. While every surface within reaching distance from me was occupied by paper, first place talks winner, Emily Rye, was practicing her speech ad nauseum. “I must have rehearsed it thirty times,” the BCDB graduate student said. Working independently, she had finalized her script a week before the symposium. If you had seen her during her commute, what appeared to be the use of blue tooth was actually her practicing until the presentation was memorized by rote. In contrast, talk presenter David Nicholson of the Neuroscience program could be found in lab daily before his presentation, collecting data for his presentation up until the day before.  

The vital role of this symposium is student development; gaining skills in auditorium and poster presentation. Composed of recent candidacy students, this year’s presentations lacked the practice of near-thesis students. Standouts presentations included Jessica Konen from Cancer Biology. True to their moniker, the follower cancer cells were videoed conga-lining after the leader cell, making them seem endearing. Jessica described their taxis as “smart.” Philip Zakas from MSP conducted an amazing presentation on ancestral proteins, which pulled the audience through not only the course of his research but the process of scientific reasoning. Robert Petit from PBEE got one of the biggest unintended laughs of the day by dryly delivering the line “and now for the interesting stuff: the graphs!”

While all the participants wanted resume fodder, traveling grants and kudos, what seemed to be an underlying desire was justification as to why they haven’t seen their friends since recruitment weekend. Addressing that concern, the post-talk mixer was the highlight of the day for the beleaguered poster and talk presenters.

Reconnecting with friends aside, absence of an invited speaker made the event more modest than previous iterations. Without the extension outside of Emory, the proceedings displayed a distinct lack of presentation aplomb and audience attendance was modest. My own research path was ineffably re-routed after the presentation made by the epigenetic expert, Dr. Sweatt, three years previous.  When contacted for comment Natty Chalermpalanupap, a DSAC representative for the Neuroscience program replied “No speaker, straight to the parteeey. ☺”

I came away from my first DSAC symposium presentation with a 2nd place poster presentation travel award and a dedication to take advantage of this opportunity in the future. Maybe closer to graduation, I’ll bring the Michael Jordan poster.