Nov. 1, 2015

The 3rd Annual Host-Parasite Interactions Bootcamp 2015

Article written by Brad van Paridon (PhD candidate, Gilleard lab, University of Calgary)

The HPI group trekked up to Kananaskis on March 20th, 2015 for the 2-day 3rd annual HPI bootcamp. We were once again graciously hosted by the University of Calgary Biogeoscience Institute (formerly, Barrier Lake Field Station).

This year’s program had a few different themes, starting with an informal Q and A session with Drs. Andre Buret, Derek McKay, Constance Finney and first time boot camp attendee Dr. Stephanie Yanow from the University of Alberta. This session was titled “How did we get here?” and focused on each member’s personal journey to the positions they now hold. It was reassuring to hear the different paths that each person took to get to where they are because each member of the panel had a very different story. The main idea coming out of this discussion was there is no set path to academia. Each member provided insight into the decisions they were faced with, both professionally and personally. Despite the differences in their paths, each member related having to make some choice to jump in and pursue opportunities that they may have felt unprepared or unqualified for. The message being that if you go for it and apply yourself, switching tracks or changing course is not only possible but potentially a great move.

This session segued nicely to a workshop led be Constance Finney, titled “How to get a fellowship.” This too was a positive session that aimed to help those students considering post-doctoral fellowships (PDF) and eventually academia as a career path. There is a growing sentiment in the graduate student community that positions in academia are incredibly difficult to come across or unobtainable all together for the vast majority of students. The workshop put on by Dr. Finney didn’t pull any punches and laid out the facts that yes, these jobs are not easy to come by, but also any position students are chasing will require dedication and work to achieve. She also provided practical tips on applying for fellowships and grant writing, things that will make a PDF competitive for academic positions. The first two sessions of the day generated a very realistic yet optimistic outlook for careers after grad school. The important thing for grad students to remember is no matter what career you are pursuing, putting yourself in a position to succeed by working hard and following up on opportunities presented along the way is key. Also, be open to new things and switching tracks as this may lead to unexpected results.

The afternoon started with what is now a growing trend in most North American universities, the three minute thesis. A handful of brave grad students and post docs “volunteered” to give a three minute thesis presentation and then were given feedback by the group. Distilling your research work into an accessible and concise three minute talk is not an easy thing to do, as was realized by the HPI professors who were talked into giving it a shot on the spot! Although difficult this exercise highlighted some very important points and difficulties in science communication. How to frame research into a larger context that shows the importance of research for society? The need to avoid using jargon and technical language was also discussed. Comments from those who have engaged in the business world deemed three minutes too long and that when giving a pitch to investors one minute is often all the time you are allowed. This was some interesting food for thought.

Trainees then broke into groups for the opportunity to speak with the three external Program Advisory Committee members, Drs. Kim Barrett, John Wallace and Tim Geary. All three travelled to Calgary to be part of the bootcamp and their presence and input is both valuable and greatly appreciated. It was a nice change of pace to be able to meet with each member and pick their brain for career advice. Each member again represented a different career path, set of experiences and outlook for the future of research. These informal conversations are invaluable to the trainees and we thank the committee members again for their time in sitting down with the HPI members.

The formal sessions for the day were capped off with the HPI Town Hall Meeting. The meeting commenced with the announcement of a trainee participation award for the upcoming year. The stage was then cleared for the outgoing Trainee Operations Committee to be thanked for their service and for them to describe what their position entails, what was accomplished in the past year as well as upcoming events. With all this info presented the group then selected the new TOC members for 2015-2016. The entire HPI group and leadership extend its thanks to the outgoing members and the new volunteers who stepped up to fill positions. The TOC is an important part of the HPI group and all the activities they organize. It is also an excellent opportunity for the trainees involved and we wish them luck over the upcoming year.

After another great meal from the field station staff the evening was left to the group to relax, socialize and have some fun. There was a spirited trivia game that tested our knowledge of history and geography, not as much about parasites though. After the group demonstrated how competitive we all are the theme switched to cooperation as the guitars were brought and the musical talents of the crowd were coaxed out during the course of the night. As always this was a lot of fun and a great chance to reconnect with group members outside of our own lab groups and to get to know the new members to the group.

The next day saw a few sessions geared at getting trainee feedback on the program, a short seminar on conflict management and a brainstorming session meant to gather ideas for the next big community outreach program the TOC is planning. The HPI group has participated in a number of events at the TELUS Spark Science Centre in Calgary and we are now in talks to host an entire evening dedicated to parasites and their impact on humans, animals both wild and domestic as well as their impact on our changing world. This is an ambitious undertaking and it will likely be a year in the making but stay tuned for more info regarding this event as well as the other programs we will be involved with over this next year.

The HPI executive committee and the entire group would like to again sincerely thank the staff at the U of C field station for their service and hospitality. They would also like to again thank the three external Program Advisory Committee members that were able to attend. For more information on our group, research opportunities or our community outreach programs we can be found on Facebook and Twitter, @hpi_network.

More 2015 HPI Bootcamp Photos