Reflecting on the 2015 Eastern Association for Electroencephalographers (EAEEG) Conference in Manhattan, NY

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Author: Jabir Mohamed

There are usually three reasons for going to an academic conference: to get informed, to get feedback, and/or to get noticed. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting at my first conference. I wasn’t presenting an original research paper, but rather a scholarly idea—an idea that took eight months of deliberation before it came to fruition and now serves as my Master’s thesis. Since I wasn’t presenting any data, getting noticed wasn’t on my priority list. I was more interested in being surrounded by experts in the field and getting constructive feedback around my topic: impaired consciousness in complex partial epilepsy.

Much to my dismay, being a seasoned presenter in my lab’s Journal Club did not alleviate my pre-performance anxiety. Stories of audience members verbally attacking graduate students involuntarily seeped into my subconscious. I was anxious about what an audience member would say and worried that I wouldn’t be able to intelligently respond to their questions or comments. Yet I returned home with many positive memories, new leads, and a basket full of knowledge. A big thank you to my supervisor, Dr. McIntyre Burnham, and to Dr. Kathryn Hum, for being awesome and organizing the conference.

The EAEEG is the first and longest running conference of its kind. It was established in 1939 by pioneers in electroencephalography (EEG) to promote dialogue between clinicians and basic researchers in the neurosciences. Recently, EEG has emerged from being a historical curiosity to modern brain activity monitoring techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography. This is mainly because of the promise high frequency oscillations (HFOs) have shown as a novel epilepsy biomarker. Unsurprisingly, this year’s meeting featured a symposium on EEG’s new frontier.

The first part of the symposium showcased talks from highly respected clinician-researchers of Columbia University, Dr. Ronald Emerson and Dr. Catherine Schevon. Both unraveled the role of electrophysiology—particularly high frequencies in EEG—in locating the seizure onset zone (i.e. where the seizure starts). Talks by University of Toronto’s Dr. Hiroshi Otsubo and Dr. Peter Carlen further supported the hypothesis that HFOs offer a window into understanding seizure network mechanisms. In the discussion that followed, two common points were raised by all conferees: 1) HFOs are better than interictal spikes in detecting seizure focus, and 2) its potential use in the clinic needs to be assessed in future research.

As per tradition, the second day featured a session of free communications. I received some great advice from my supervisor—as always—that put me at ease. He provided this eloquent analogy:

“A conference talk is linear, it’s not like reading a book. In a book, the reader can flip back to the previous page [if they realize they missed something important]. At a conference, if the audience misunderstands a few slides because they are too complex or the explanation is rushed, you’ve most likely lost their attention for the remainder of the talk. This is especially true for a 15-minute talk. Keep it simple and you’ll be fine.”

So as my supervisor’s words of wisdom reverberated in my mind, I took to the podium. I paced myself through the 15 minutes, and steadied my way through the questions. Aside from the fact that I broke the cardinal rule of staying on time—one minute and 37 seconds over to be exact—I was very happy with how it all turned out. I looked beyond the crowd to see my supervisor holding two thumbs up and the feedback I got from others during the reception was equally encouraging and gave me hope for future success. Mission accomplished.

Overall, I was very pleased with the time I spent talking to and meeting people, who I believe are ultimately committed to helping individuals with neurological diseases through research and/or practice. I am very thankful to have been able to present my research topic and even more thankful for the feedback I received. A toast to the success of the 69th annual EAEEG meeting in Manhattan; I look forward to next year’s meeting in Montreal,