Neuroscience Conferences

The following are bits of writing from many sources such as personal correspondence, posts to on-line discussion groups, notes, and occasionally even some journaling. All of this is informal in nature, but contains some interesting and/or useful information.

The "circus"
In spite of the benefits of access to much information and potential partnerships (professions and otherwise, no doubt), some scientists skip the conference from time to time just for a vacation from the circus atmosphere. By all accounts, it is extremely hectic. The overall result of attending one of these is not true education or learning, but basic awareness. There is simply too much going on to absorb almost anything in detail. Still, I like the scattershot approach to learning, so I actually enjoy the experience.

An exercise
When I go to the neuroscience conferences, a lot of the time I have to ride the bus between the hotel and the convention center (once in the morning, again around lunch if I'm trying to save money by not eating at the place, then again at night if there are more activities). I'm around other neuroscientists, so I take advantage of the time. I make sure I ask them either "What do you do?" (meaning research-wise) or "What did you see interesting today?" I don't like to waste my time being idle when I could be learning something. You can probably extend that idea as a homework assignment in which you find ways to get more active in front of people, but this method helps with the exchange.

SFN conference
Imagine distilling your most interesting, intellectually stimulating "hobbies" into a 24 hour a day activity. Now bring in all the most interesting people engaged in those hobbies and have them put of shows and hang out together. Every try to have a conversation with a complete stranger on the bus or wherever. There's a relatively low probability that they will have anything interesting to say. Not so at the convention. Honestly, I have so much more to tell you about the convention (most of which even a neuroscientist might have interesting), but I haven't had a chance to write up all my notes and other thoughts as yet. Give me time.

Did you know your brain consumes 20% of your energy (well, probably a lot less if you're the president)? It's amazing you can get so worn out just sitting in a lecture, presentation, whatever, but it's fun just the same.

Rats in a maze
There’s neuroscience everywhere... At the convention center earlier this morning I observed there were two options for breakfast: 1) a snack concession stand serving milk, cereal, fruit, etc. and 2) a coffee stand. The line for the latter was three times as long as for the one offering three times the options. And the irony: Last night’s public lecture was on the subject of “the addicted brain.” It reminded me of the classic footage from the ‘50s of rats running across a couple meters of electric grating to get to the cocaine while the starved rat wouldn’t brave even half that adversity for food and water.

DeLange conference
I'm back from the conference. It was a lot of fun. It was very much a "sit and get" affair, where you sit in the audience of an auditorium and researchers come in one by one and tell you about their work with a little slide show (these days everything was done with PowerPoint). The material was definitely interesting, and some of the speakers were excellent presenters. It was also nice to be spoken to about neuroscience at a level that was not condescending. You get used to that when you watch enough news reports and educational programming, all of which is directed at a general audience. For example, one of the masters of ceremonies was giving an introduction before one of the presentations on the hippocampus and didn't bother to waste any time explaining what the hippocampus was or why it was important. It was very refreshing.
A similar situation happened one night when I was in college years ago. I was playing music with a girl who happened to be a music major. Even though I have never had any formal training in music theory or anything like that, I spent years reading the articles on theory in the backs of the guitar magazines (which are surprisingly good sources). As a result, I am fairly conversant on music jargon. I didn't realize how useful that was until that night when I was able to communicate musical instructions in a very straightforward manner. I didn't realize how efficient it was until after the fact. Imagine a doctor having to describe every instrument to the nurse who is supposed to be handing him tools during an operation! This was much the same thing.

I saw a great poster presentation on the differences in str8 vs. gay males’ brains while viewing naked pictures. Remind me to give you some more details later when I have the time. However, at the poster I commented on the fact that I didn’t see anything about a gay social this year. Someone corrected me and said that there was indeed one tonight, so I looked into some of the other books (they have different itineraries according to different configurations: by day, type of presentation, etc.) and found it listed there. I went and had fun, but it wasn’t very enlightening beyond just talking neuroscience. Still, you can’t top that.

Rewards and parenting
I saw another poster (right next to the gay one, actually) where they looked at the reward centers of the brain in rats and contrasted the effect of cocaine with motherhood. Conclusion: they were similarly rewarding. Note, however, no males were examined for the effect of fatherhood. Presumably, the aversive stimuli required to produce a comparable response was deemed too cruel.

At the conference
I'm finally back from the neuroscience convention. That is really the highlight of my year. Think about the one thing you this is absolutely the coolest in the world, then imagine that there only a few people with whom you can ever talk about it, then you get to go to a place where you are totally immersed in it and there are lots of hot girls who can converse with you. Oh, yeah! There's nothing cooler than this experience.

Copyright Alexplorer.

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