Science in Seattle | By Leah Hohman

On the morning of May 13th2016, for the first time in my graduate student career, I was on my way to the airport for a conference. The conference in question was the IMMUNOLOGY 2016 conference hosted by the American Association of Immunologists (AAI), which was being held in Seattle at the Washington State Convention Centre. This annual conference is one of the largest in North America, and had over 3800 individuals registered! This meeting also marked the 100th AAI Annual Meeting — I have the complimentary mug to prove it! The program for this conference was pretty much a textbook, with about 7 talks happening simultaneously at any given time, and every evening I set aside some time to plan out which talks I wanted to see the following day. The result often involved frantically darting from room to room trying to catch back-to-back 15 minutes presentations. Often I was met with the frustrating situation of missing the first 2 minutes or so, but the plethora of talks did give me the opportunity to soak up loads of knowledge from a broad range of immunological fields (though I admit I focused on T cells, as they are my jam).

Of course, the recommended conference hotels were a bit pricy so Matheus (also a member of the Peters lab) and I ended up looking into alternate options. We did manage to find something affordable that was not a hostel (hurray!), but it also happened to be the most intensely hipster hotel I have ever seen, which was actually pretty appropriate, since Seattle is like the Portland of the West Coast (otherwise known as a hipster metropolis). It was lovely, though, and walking distance to the where the conference was held as well as the Pike Place Market! For those interested – http://www.acehotel.com/seattle.

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One of the many reasons to visit Pike Place Market!

There were many outstanding talks at the conference, including a surprising number on Toxoplasma. In particular, I looked forward to the distinguished lectures at the end of the day (not just because it was the end of the day, I swear!), which included Drs. Ulrich H. von Andrian, Susan K. Pierce, and John J. O’Shea. Not only did they discuss the breadth and trajectory of their careers, but they also talked about current research, and even some unpublished data.

I also had the opportunity to present my work during the poster session, which was a bit terrifying, as I’d never done it before. Overall it was a really excellent experience. I enjoyed getting new perspectives on my research, and also having an opportunity to show the data I had managed to generate since starting my program was a really motivating experience. The poster sessions were definitely a highlight of the conference for me, because while the talks were interesting, having the opportunity to talk with someone about their research one-on-one was extremely informative. I did experience the unsettling moment of someone asking whether the data I was presenting was published, and having to admit that it wasn’t. Fortunately, they worked in Mycobacterium, while I focus on Leishmania, so I didn’t have to challenge them to pistols at dawn.

To wrap up the conference there was a gala, which was hosted at none other than the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum on the night of the last full day of the conference. For those of you who haven’t been there, it is a gorgeous building that boasts both a music and sci-fi museum! An extra bonus was that all the museum exhibits were open, and the featured exhibits happened to be Indie Games and Hello Kitty. It’s like they knew I was coming. 

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Overall, I returned from the conference feeling very enthusiastic and full of new ideas for my project (perhaps too many ideas, in fact)! I would like to thank the NSERC-CREATE HPI program for providing the funding for this trip – I really appreciate the support!

 

 

 

 

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