Ignacio Provencio / Biology

I’ve had an interest in biology since grade school. Upon entering Swarthmore College, I assumed that the natural career path for someone with my interest was medical school, so I matriculated as a pre-med. I was wholly unaware of the opportunities that existed in academia and industry. Well into my college years, I met Jon Copeland, a visiting neuroscience professor. Jon introduced me to the world of research, setting in motion a career in research and teaching that I have found remarkably fulfilling. In 1986, the fall of my senior year, Jon recognized my nascent interest in neurobiology and encouraged me to attend the Annual Meeting of the Society of Neuroscience which was being held in Washington, DC that year. I was completely unprepared for the experience. The Neuroscience Meeting is the largest international meeting of scientists who study the nervous system. In my naïveté, I assumed that I could simply drive to Washington, register on-site, and participate in the meeting. After driving the 130miles, I entered the convention center and was immediately overwhelmed. That year, the meeting had 12,000 registrants. Upon entering the hall, I realized I knew nobody, I didn’t know where to get a name tag, and I didn’t even know hot to determine which sessions to attend. After30 minutes of glazed-eye ambulation through the bustling convention center, I got back in my car and returned to Swarthmore. That evening, I realized that I had missed an uncommon opportunity to see the workings of scientific enterprise. The next morning, I got back into my car and made the trek to Washington, forcing myself to figure out the mechanics of this enormous scientific meeting. It was intimidating yet exciting intellectual watershed moment that confirmed my interest in research. I was enthralled to observe the passionate discussions and arguments between investigators.

I also enjoyed the sense of community that was obvious among many of the researchers. Most of all, I was thrilled to see that novel questions could be addressed using the scientific method. I was a spectator peering into the arena of discovery, wanting to become a player. I returned to Swarthmore invigorated and determined to pursue a career in academia.

This year’s Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience is being held November 15th through November 19th in Washington. The Meeting now boasts yearly attendances greater than 30,000 participants. My “dream idea” is to chaperone a group of students to the Meeting for a day, so they can reap the benefits of participating in the conference without being intimidated by the sheer scope of the experience. I envision selecting about 10 third or fourth year students who taken my Sensory Neurobiology course (BIOL 431). We will meet in mid-October to register for the meeting, plan the general schedule, and finalize travel plans. Because the topics at the Neuroscience Meeting are so diverse, at our October planning meeting I intend to reach a consensus on a sensory modality, such as vision or olfaction, on which we will focus our trip. Upon reaching this consensus, I will provide the students with primary research literature representing the most recent work in the selected subspecialty. I will also encourage the students to delve further into the topic on their own by doing their own PubMed database searches. A week before our trip, we will gather to make final plans including developing meeting itineraries. After the Thanksgiving holiday, I aim to have an informal pizza dinner so we can discuss the experience.

My goal is to provide my students insight into the workings of the scientific enterprise. During my Sensory Neurobiology course, we discussed several high impact papers that were published within the previous six months. Hopefully, this provided the students an initial appreciation of the process of scientific discovery. I hope to further this experience, at least among a small cohort of students, by exposing them to the dynamic environment of a major scientific conference. Perhaps one of these students will trek back to Washington on their own to enjoy another day of the meeting.

I estimate this cost of the Dream Idea to be $2633.00.

An itemized list of the predicted expenditures can be found below.

Number of student 10

Registration 110.00

Round trip train fare 90.00

Metrofare 3.30

Meal allowance 50.00

Total per student 253.30

Post-meeting pizza dinner 100.00

Total Cost of Dream Idea $2,633.00