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A flourishing, cutting-edge conference programme

A conversation with Dr Treasa Creavin, Science Programme Manager, Advanced Courses and Scientific Conferences, Wellcome Genome Campus, UK.

Courses and Scientific Conferences (ACSC) has been delivering training and conferences for the past 30 years. World renowned for the quality of its events, the programme is expanding to complement the rapidly changing world of genomics and biodata. The conferences cultivate an environment where new ideas can thrive, drawing together researchers and health-care professionals with different perspectives around a common goal. ACSC has recently launched an open call for new conferences and retreats.

What are the aims of the scientific conference programme?

We fund, develop and deliver conferences and retreats spanning basic research, cutting-edge biomedicine and the application of genomics in health-care. We bring together clinicians and researchers, ensuring that groups who work in different disciplines get the opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, develop collaborations and drive research forward. For example our ‘genomics of brain disorders’ conference brings together psychiatrists, neurologists and researchers working on a variety of rare and common diseases affecting the brain. Our immunogenomics conference encourages discussion between immunologists and geneticists on immune-mediated disease genetics. It’s quite rare for these different professional groups to meet and discuss new research in depth.

In what ways will your existing programme be expanded?

We are aiming to increase the number of events and the breadth and diversity of topics we include, as well as the communities we serve. We’re expanding the number of conferences from around 16 per year to 22, increasing the number of delegates we attract to the campus. The annual programme is dynamic with new areas included each year. We closely follow current trends and emerging topics in biomedicine and aim to provide timely meetings focusing on new biological insights that are enabled by new technology. We’ve recently expanded into new areas such as plant science, with a meeting that focused on how genomes vary across different and changing environments, and antimicrobial resistance, with a meeting that emphasized big data and machine-learning approaches to tackle this major challenge. Furthermore, as genomics is incorporated into healthcare, we’re facilitating meetings for health-care professionals including clinicians, nurses and genetic counsellors as they upskill in these areas.To help us continue to reach new audiences and ensure a diverse programme, we’ve launched an open call for researchers to propose new conferences and retreats.

What draws people to your conferences – what’s unique?

In addition to the exciting science on offer, there are several reasons why attending an ACSC conference is a unique experience. Our campus is in a beautiful rural location near Cambridge, where we have a purpose-built conference centre and facilities. The delegates stay on site so they can maximize opportunities for interactions and discussions, professionally and socially. Eating together, networking during the poster sessions, and discussing science after dinner means that people can form real connections. This sets us apart from large conferences with thousands of delegates staying in hotels across a big city; our meetings have a personalized feel. This helps scientists get to know each other, which can encourage future collaborations and even job offers! The varied format of our conferences – with invited speakers, selected talks, posters and lightning talks - increases the visibility of emerging research, often from the next generation of scientists. Our conferences are very international, so delegates can connect with leaders in their field. Finally, we implemented a gender equality policy two years ago, which is now bearing fruit. Now, 50% of all invited speakers and session chairs are women, as are half of our programme committees. Our conferences have improved the visibly and voice of women in research.

What practical support do you offer conference attendees?

Our conferences are open to all researchers and health-care professionals. To foster an inclusive programme, we offer financial support for PhD students from anywhere in the world — the sole prerequisite is that they submit a conference abstract. Successful applicants receive a 50% discount on registration fees. We also offer carer grants up to £500. This support is open to all and can be used to cover childcare or care for elderly relatives while attending one of our conferences.

What advice do you have for budding contributors?

If you’re a PhD student attending one of our conferences for the first time, make every effort to contact scientists you’d like to meet ahead of time to arrange to discuss your research. Speakers and leading scientists are busy people, so it would be a shame to miss out! If you’re a researcher working on an emerging topic that will have an effect on healthcare and genomics, and would like to organize a conference or a retreat, get in touch to discuss it further.

To find out more, visit: wellcomegenomecampus.org/coursesandconferences