UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


14th Annual Queen Square Symposium

10 May 2013

14th Annual Queen Square Symposium

By Anna Graca, Madeline Grade and Julie Guerin

Students from the Institute of Neurology and Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at Queen Square, University College London gathered to present their research at the 14th annual Queen Square Symposium on Friday 15th March 2013.

This year over 60 Masters and PhD students participated in the poster competition, along with six visiting students from the Berlin School of Brain and Mind Sciences who were also invited to present their research. Projects were grouped into categories spanning many fields, including Cognitive Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration, Neuroimaging, and Movement Disorders.

From each category, one student was chosen for the final competition, judged by faculty members of varying disciplines from UCL. PhD student Dr. Sanjay Manohar and his project, Dopamine increases both distractibility and reward sensitivity, won the PhD category and MSc student Min Sun won the MSc category with her project, Investigating the potential for therapeutic mechanisms on ketogenic diet: the effects of fatty acids and ketone bodies. Congratulations to both!

Effective Communications

For many students, this was the first time presenting their research and the symposium proved a valuable opportunity to practice how to effectively communicate their research.

“It was a pain to prepare,” admitted Andre van Graan, an MSc Advanced Neuroimaging student and one of the finalists this year, “but it was a pleasure to compete and it will probably give me a lifetime of satisfaction.”

Winner of the MSc category, Min Sun, humbly expressed that she was “actually quite surprised” because she thought “all the other students did a very good job.” Judge Dr. Caroline Selai agreed, reporting that the symposium was overall of “very high quality. It’s the kind of quality you’d expect to see at conferences” and that “it’s always marvelous to see such a wide range of work.”

“For this competition, it’s the presentation, both graphical and oral, which matters,” remarked Professor Louis Lemieux, another one of the judges. Dr. Selai also commented on presentation skills, emphasizing the advantage of clarity in communicating research findings to an audience of diverse backgrounds. She advised students to “keep the posters simple, avoid paragraphs or even full sentences, use bullet-points” and to “practice oral presentation.”

Movement for Hope

Indeed, communication seemed to be the theme of this year’s event. Instead of the usual presentations of research findings, student speakers focused on more widely applicable issues at the intersection between science and the public.

Amber Michelle Hill presented Youth-led innovations in disseminating research to wider audiences, discussing her involvement in Movement for Hope, a social enterprise dedicated to raising money and awareness for neurological disease through multimedia art.

In her talk we were introduced to the artwork of Sarah Ezekiel, who has had Motor has had Motor Neuron Disease for 13 years. Sarah uses special eye-gaze technology to create artistic images. All of the proceeds from her paintings go towards the purchase of eye-gaze adaptive technology for other patients. Amber was joined by Chris D’Souza, who discussed his experience with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and his involvement with the charity. He became a member of Movement for Hope in June 2012 and he actively participates in events aimed to raise awareness and fundraising for the charity.

Read, Write, Listen, Speak

Dr. Krishna Chinthapalli, who is currently finishing his PhD, presented Read, Write, Listen, Speak. He discussed the stages of publication at the BMJ, where he is currently a Clinical Fellow in conjunction with the Royal College of Physicians. Krishna has had the opportunity to write a number of articles and blog posts himself, and shared some of the insight he has gained. He stressed the importance of effective communication of scientific findings, remarking that what gets reported is “quite arbitrary, it’s not related to impact factor at all.” He encouraged scientists to consider experiences in medical journalism offered by the Science Media Centre, the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize, and the BMJ Clinical Fellow Scheme and Clegg Scholarship.

Masters student Dr. Samuel Angwafor discussed the social, medical, and community-associated challenges that doctors in Cameroon face in combating and treating neurological diseases, specifically epilepsy. In his talk, “Doing much with very little: tackling epilepsy in Cameroon”, Samuel explained that there are only 2 physicians per 10,000 people, and only 1 neurologist per 1.5 million people, and presented his first-hand experience in constructing clinics to assist patients and to raise awareness about epilepsy in his home country, where the disorder has associated stigmas. He also discussed the importance of effective collaboration with other members of Cameroonian societies, including traditional healers.

Keynote Lecture

The highlight of the day was the keynote lecture “Distorted Science in the Media (and Policy): is it Our Fault?” by Dr. Petroc Sumner from Cardiff University. His talk focused on the difficulties associated with translating scientific findings to the general public through journalism. Dr. Sumner’s research originally focused on visual action selection, until “anger and frustration” over the misreporting of their own findings in British newspapers drove him and his colleagues to investigate where problems in translation occur. The actual finding was a simple correlation: the MRI spectroscopy measure of GABA in a region of frontal cortex was higher in people who also scored higher on impulsivity questionnaires. Newspapers incorrectly connected these findings to the concurrent 2011 London riots. To know more about what Dr. Sumner is doing to help fuse science and journalism, please see his interview.

Overall, the symposium was a wonderful opportunity for students to both discuss their research progress and also learn about others’ research developments within various domains of neuroscience. The symposium offers both a collaborative and academic venue for Queen Square students and faculty alike to view the current advancements that are being made in our understanding of the biological and behavioral underpinnings of many neuroscientific questions. Furthermore, the student presentations and keynote address offered interesting perspectives on journalism, effective communication, and the importance of awareness in science. We thank everyone for their participation in this successful event and look forward to next year’s presentations!