The University of Lethbridge’s Neuroscience Club and Canadian Center for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN) banded together in August to host the 2020 Undergraduate Neuroscience Conference (UNC) online. The UNC is an event that encourages undergraduate students from various backgrounds to present research that can be applied to the field of neuroscience. The conference provides an opportunity to see how students, labs and schools are innovating in their field, and to promote and establish connections between undergraduate students around the country. Similar to the Undergraduate Research in Science Conference of Alberta (URSCA), the decision to host this event was last minute, but also pre-determined. The Neuroscience Club had planned to host this event at the University of Lethbridge before COVID-19 hit, and after initially cancelling the event, the leader of the conference planning committee, Raksha Ramkumar, suggested the club try to host it online. Raksha’s efforts reinforced the University of Lethbridge’s reputation as one of the country’s top-rated undergraduate research institutions by persevering and innovating through difficult circumstances in order to host the conference online. The UNC has been hosted at the University of Alberta for the last 3 years, but in-person.
Instead of seeing the new online-delivery format as a limitation, the club decided to embrace it and threw the geographic limitations that come with traditional conferences to the wind. Under pandemic circumstances and with the help of Raksha’s leadership, the club recruited keynote speakers and presenters from across the country. With the help of our Faculty communications team, the neuroscience community, and the arts and science faculty members, the club was able to advertise the event expansively, reaching undergraduate students across Canada from various different universities and programs. Additionally, the club recruited two guest speakers, one of which was our University’s very own Dr. Matthew Tata, who presented a talk titled “Translating Neuroscience into Robotics and Artificial Intelligence,” where he emphasized the importance of multi-disciplinary overlap and how important it is to remain connected in your community and take advantage of new opportunities. Our second guest speaker, Dr. Cornelia (Corree) Laule from the University of British Columbia, delivered a talk titled “Myelin Water Imaging: Past, Present, and Future,” where she touched on her experience with imaging both in vivo and post mortem brain and spinal cords and discussed her research’s focus on myelin.
Dean Matthew Letts gave an opening speech to commence the conference, and this certainly started the conference off on the right foot. Presentations were delivered live as 5-minute poster presentations or 10-minute oral presentations, and the judges, who were recruited from various neuroscience labs, assessed them using a points system to determine performance. Based on the points received from the judging panel, awards were presented at the conclusion of the conference for 1st and 2ndplace in each category. Club Co-president, Bailey Porter, presented these awards to Tiffany Kung, Parker McNabb, Bonnie Wang, and Liam Galvin for 1stplace poster presentation, 2nd place poster presentation, 1stplace oral presentation, and 2nd place oral presentation, respectively. Following the awards, the UNC lead planner, Raksha, concluding with touching remarks for the conference.
Overall, the conference ran relatively smoothly, and it certainly accomplished its goal of inspiring undergraduate students and developing connections between different schools and disciplines. While there were various obstacles encountered by the Neuroscience Club executive team while organizing the conference amidst a pandemic, the executives can agree that the experience was equally rewarding as it was eye-opening. Putting together conferences such as these, online or not, requires involvement and help from the community. Fortunately, the club received the necessary help that allowed for the conference to run smoothly. The club plans to use what they have learned from hosting the conference online and apply it to help them navigate the upcoming semester more easily.
The Neuroscience Club would like to give a special thank you to its executives, such as Raksha Ramkumar, Brad McCarthy, Laura Brown, Giselle Tiede, Jhanvi Mehta, Kennedy Lewis, Bailey Porter and Paris Ellis, who worked hard in order to make the conference happen despite difficult circumstances. Another thank you is warranted for the judging panel and keynote speakers, Matthew Tata, Cornelia (Corree) Laule, Serena Jenkins, Aubrey Demchuk, Jackson Ham, Luke Saville, Milad Naghizadeh, Candace Burke, Soroush Malek, Rachel Stark, Claire Niehaus, and Melissa Giddy. Thank you as well to Dean Matthew Letts who was able to deliver an inspiring speech with little notice, and a special thanks to Catharine Reader for her prompt replies and incredible assistance with our communications and marketing efforts. We would also like to thank the community and the participants, as without you, this event would not have been possible. We hope you all have a wonderful fall!