Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Conference: A Nice Time in Nice

Tags: , ,

By: Jessie Lim

For scientists and researchers, conferences are like field trips for school children: educational, awe-inspiring and—dare I say it—fun. However, it’s all fun and games until you have an oral presentation in a moderated competition against other more experienced research fellows and PhD candidates while you’re just an undergraduate. This is the position I found myself in when I attended my first conference for the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (SCMR) in Nice, France. Reflecting on this conference one year later, I realize that despite my less-than-perfect experience, it turned out to be a perfect segue into the research world and has made me a better graduate student. Let me explain why.

SCMR is a prominent organization for physicians and scientists working with cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging (CMR), and the annual conference is internationally known for showcasing novel imaging techniques for measuring cardiac function and improving diagnoses.  When my abstract was accepted for this conference, I was ecstatic—but it was a bit misplaced. I was more excited about being able to mold my work into a comprehensive product, and travelling to Europe than anything else. However, upon discovering that I would be involved in an oral competition, I suddenly realized that what I had to say mattered a lot more than dreaming of crème brûlée. Plus, I now worried that any confidence I had in presenting would wither away in the presence of world-renowned cardiologists.

Nonetheless, in the days leading to my presentation I was able to hold my anxiety at bay and enjoy the first few days of the conference. I sat in for other presentations and seminar talks about MRI physics, and as I observed others around me, I was enlightened by how passionately and professionally they spoke about their work. I became aware of the true purpose of conferences: to share ideas communally in hopes of solving questions and improving technology and medicine together. There was something humbling in the fact that all these professionals gathered to learn from each other—and even from me. This became important for me as a graduate student because the thought of becoming a mini-expert in our research niche is a major motivating force towards the success of our project. We all aspire to discover the unknown, and if we keep in mind the place we hold within our field, and the impact we have made to help other academics, it will encourage us to be resilient in our work as we advance the field forward in our own way.

After a few days of learning about cardiac function, the day of my presentation finally arrived as the morning sun crept through the tortuous peaks of the French Riviera. My supervisor’s key advice was to “go on a mountain or beach and practice your presentation over and over until you know it well”, but I didn’t have time to do either, so the public washroom had to do. A couple hours and a few last minute slide changes later, I presented and everything actually turned out well—I was even able to answer a question! But the best part was looking out into the audience and seeing all the members of my lab—including my supervisor who was front row—scattered amongst the people, supporting me and cheering me on. That was the second lesson I learned: that all things are made more rewarding with the support and encouragement from your peers and mentors. Guiding each other through the complex journey of research makes all triumphs collective. And after renting a house with them for the duration of the conference (that’s a whole other story), I can confidently say that we have each other’s backs for life! On to the next conference!