Nov. 1, 2014

The 2nd Annual Host-Parasite Interactions Bootcamp 2014

Article by Brad van Paridon

This year’s annual HPI boot camp was held again at the University of Calgary’s Biogeoscience Facility in Kananaskis and while the venue was the same, this year’s camp had some new attendees both in the HPI ranks as well as guests and guest speakers.  This of course included the current/returning HPI trainees, HPI faculty and the HPI Program Advisory Committee; Drs. John Wallace, Kim Barrett, Brent Dixon and Tim Geary.  The structure and theme of the event was similar; career development through workshops, seminars and socializing.  While last year’s sessions were centered on career options outside and inside of academia, this year’s sessions looked at communication in the science field, both good and bad, and aimed to give the trainees a lesson in finances. 

The first speaker of the weekend was Melanie Kuxdorf, a Social Media Officer with CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network in Vancouver, BC.  Melanie received a Masters in Journalism from the University of British Colombia in Vancouver, specializing in science journalism.  Melanie spoke on the uses of media and specifically social media in communicating science to the public.  She led the group in an exercise in writing headlines and pitching a story for the traditional media sources, newspapers and radio; she then specifically addressed social media.  The use of social media brought about much discussion around the benefits of social media and balancing that with some of the greyer areas such as copyright issues when tweeting or blogging about unpublished research.  The discussion was useful and the group largely believed that tweeting and blogging about not only research and results, but also the process of getting to those results would help increase a general understanding of science and perhaps demystify some of the work we do.

From here we were treated to a highly entertaining talk on personal finances from Diane Dekanic, President of Financial Health Management Inc.  Although it doesn’t seem a likely topic for a graduate student career development workshop, it was a great example of how the HPI is looking to address overlooked areas of career development.  Not only was a personal finance talk beneficial for a group such as students and postdocs who often rely on smaller salaries supplemented  by intermittent scholarships and bursaries, it also highlighted budgeting techniques useful in many careers.  This is an idea that isn’t usually addressed with grad students, but makes a lot of sense for those moving on to careers in industry and for those who may end up running labs.  Diane delivered an informative, engaging talk and provided the group with resources to better manage their personal finances.

Timothy Caulfield, the final speaker of the day, is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta.  This talk again was about media and communicating science in public media forums, but more specifically about “hype”.  Tim described how hype in research, especially health related research, can be damaging to the field and he also showed where in the process of publicizing research hype can be added.  It was a fascinating talk and both complimented and juxtaposed some of the ideas brought forward earlier in the day.  Each speaker of the day brought value, insight, and enthusiasm to the HPI bootcamp. The HPI group sincerely thanks them all for attending.

That evening after dinner, the group spent the evening socializing and getting a chance to meet the new members, guest speakers and chat with the Advisory Committee.  This is always a great chance to have some fun, network, and take advantage of all the different expertise this diverse group has to offer.  For some in the group, the socializing took them from day one right into day two which started with a talk from Dr. Armando Jardim, Associate Professor and Director, Centre for Host-Parasite Interactions, Institute of Parasitology McGill University.  The HPI group and the McGill Centre are working to foster a strong collaboration to strengthen overall parasite research in Canada and Dr. Jardim gave us an overview and history of the Centre and encouraged students to consider the Centre for future career postings.

Dr. Jardim’s talk was followed by a team building event organized by the HPI’s Trainee Operations Committee (TOC) which ended up being an all-out competition; PIs and the post docs on one team and the students on another.  The challenges ranged from trivia; parasite identification, parasitology history and finally a pipette tip toss competition. There was a lot of debate and heated competition resulting in the PIs just edging out the trainees.  Despite the fierce competition it was agreed that the activity was loads of fun and a great way to get everyone communicating and working together.

The bootcamp wrapped up with the town hall meeting that gave Dr. Lash Gedamu an opportunity to introduce the teaching program he runs in Ethiopian universities and offer HPI members the opportunity of a lifetime to join him there teaching molecular biology and bioinformatics in July.  Tara Christie also gave a presentation about what My GradSkills has to offer.  The town hall meeting also gave trainees and PI’s a forum to provide feedback on the ongoing career development activities that take place throughout the year and on the program in general.  Finally, the upcoming years TOC was selected.

The TOC is heavily involved in organizing and running many of the programs and activities offered by HPI throughout the year. Involvement in the TOC aids in further developing skills of the trainees in various topics like event planning, website design and communications.   The HPI group would like to thank and express their appreciation to  outgoing TOC members; Amol Bhargava, Aude Gilabert, Marie Halliez, Russell Avramenko, Alec Campbell and Brad van Paridon (who will be the returning member of the TOC for the upcoming year) for their hard work and dedication in the last year.

As the first-ever TOC, these students provided the framework for the HPI program moving forward.  The members of the HPI group would also like to welcome the new TOC committee;  Andrew Rezansoff, Christina Amat, Jeanie, Quach, Janneke Wit, Joshua Sullivan and Oscar (Ale) Young.

This year’s bootcamp signified the completion of the second year of the HPI program and offered a promising look at the future of the HPI group.  The members of HPI would like to thank the staff of the Kananaskis Research Station, all the guest speakers, members of the Program Advisory Committee, Dr. Patrick Hanington and his lab trainees from the University of Alberta and of course all the dedicated members of the HPI group.  Here’s to a successful, productive and exciting year to come.

More 2014 HPI Bootcamp Photos

2013 HPI Bootcamp