Last Christmas, I was visiting my family in Connecticut. Despite hoping for a white Christmas, there was not a single snowflake- just slightly damp grass and twigs. But instead of snow, when I checked my email, I found a different Christmas miracle: an acceptance to present at the National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC) at Harvard University. I laughed in disbelief and turned to my family, “I guess I’ll be back on the east coast again in a month.”
As a senior, I wanted to try for any chance to present my research before I graduate. So, when I came across the NCRC website, I figured I’d give it a shot. I knew that acceptance to the conference was competitive, but the chance to hear from some of the leading experts in medicine, science and even art, was an opportunity too good to pass up. The thing that drew me most to the NCRC was the interdisciplinary research on display. After my acceptance, I was added to a Facebook group with other participants and was thrilled to see that people wouldn’t just be presenting their work in science and mathematics, but also film and history. Coming from a background of cell cultures and centrifuges, I marveled at the thought of how research was conducted in other fields and how it could be applied to everyday life.
I caught an evening flight from Phoenix out to Boston, but the four and a half hours wasn’t going by fast enough. Even with the clunky poster tube, and suitcase, I was excited to explore a new city and meet new people. At midnight, I stumbled off the jetway and caught a cab to my hotel. The next day, as I walked to the conference, I giddily stepped through the fresh snow that had fallen on the ground and started in awe up at the brick buildings that stand tall on Harvard’s campus. When I walked into the building the conference was held in, I was greeted with a gust of warm air, a participant badge, and a t-shirt souvenir. I grabbed a muffin and some coffee from the breakfast table and sat down a table with a few other people. After a few minutes and introductions, I had met presenters for New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and California. As we shuffled into an auditorium, we braced ourselves for the first keynote speech. Isaac Kohane, the chair of the department of biomedical informatics at Harvard, gave a powerful talk on the importance of sharing data and comparative genetics in medicine, and how its been used to save lives today. Throughout the rest of the day we heard from a number of keynote speakers, and other participants, sharing their work and passion to progress.
For the rest of the conference, we attended workshops and panels centered around presenting your research, entrepreneurship, ethics, the impact of research in everyday life, and so many more. We even attended panels centered panels around career paths in research: industry vs. academia, and medical school versus graduate school. Over the course of three days, there was never a dull moment, and always something new to learn. I found myself breaking open a notebook just to keep up with it all. But after every day, we were free to explore Cambridge, trying incredible restaurants and bakeries to get a taste of the town.
After a final day of presenting our posters and hearing from final keynote speakers, I was shocked at how much I had learned and how many people I had met. In the days after the conference, I’ve reflected on the impact those few days have had on how I view science, research, and even my future career. I truly enjoyed every minute and I am so humbled and grateful to have had the opportunity to do so.