Thursday, 16 April 2015

I did not expect everyone to break out into the Cha Cha Slide - A Conference Experience

Image provided by Paige Wakefield
Physical Education and Recreation student Paige Wakefield shares her academic conference going experience and dispenses a little insider information on what it's like to win an international award, and what happens when you have a room full of American Physiological Society members. Paige attended the 2015 American Physiology Experimental Biology conference in Boston.

If you had to describe your conference experience in just 3 words, what would those words be? 

Challenging, educational and exciting. 

What led you to the Experimental Biology Conference? 

Image provided by Paige Wakefield
I had been working on the project for a few months when my supervisor asked if I would be interested in the opportunity. Of course I said yes! I put in a lot of work to complete and submit the abstract in November and when I found out it had been selected for a poster presentation and a talk I was ecstatic. 

Can you tell me little about your award winning abstract? (Try to imagine how you might explain it to someone that you had just met on the elevator up to RATT… so you only have 7 floors to explain it, and they likely don’t have your level of expertise.) 

Absolutely! My abstract looks at healthy blood flow during pregnancy. For the study, we assigned pregnant women and non-pregnant women to experimental and control groups. We measured blood pressure and sympathetic ("fight or flight") responses at rest, followed by a period of sympathetic stress by placing their hand in ice water. When the "fight or flight" nervous system is activated, usually we'd expect an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. However, we found that even though pregnant participants had increased sympathetic responses, blood pressure remained the same between our two groups.

What was the inspiration for your project? 

Surprisingly, the physiology of blood pressure regulation during pregnancy is not completely understood. Some women can develop conditions known as “gestational hypertension” or “preeclampsia” characterized by high blood pressure that is brought on by pregnancy and disappears after delivery. The mechanisms of these dangerous conditions are a mystery. If we can understand how blood pressure is regulated during a healthy pregnancy we might be able to tease out what is happening with the more complicated pregnancies.

Back to the conference - what was it like to present at the conference? Was it what you had imagined? 

Image provided by Paige Wakefield

I was extremely nervous! I gave my first poster presentation to two panels of judges who chose the recipients for the David S. Bruce Award. They had tough questions about the future directions of the research. Everyone is excited about these findings but it only leads to more questions! That’s the thing about research; no one has all the answers. Sometimes you just have to say, “I don’t know”.  On the final day of the conference I gave a talk in front of about 200 scientists who were experts in sympathetic and vascular physiology. I was terrified for that! At the end of the day, I received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement. It was amazing to speak to so many people and hear about their ideas and research.

What does the award experience mean to you? 

Image provided by Paige Wakefield

The opportunity to present at an international conference was an honor and the award was a huge surprise! It’s gratifying to have your work recognized and I thank the American Physiological Society for their support. 

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Were there any unexpected moments at the conference? 

Image provided by Paige Wakefield

There was a lot of hard work that went into the conference but we also had ample opportunity to network and socialize. A “Young Experimental Scientist Mixer” was held where all the undergraduates, masters’ students and trainees from the conference got to let loose. I did not expect everyone to break out into the Cha Cha Slide. We work hard but play hard too! 

Image provided by Paige Wakefield

I also wanted to comment on how beautiful Boston was. I’m glad that the conference was held in such an amazing city! 

What’s next? 

That’s the question isn’t it! I will be graduating this semester and have applied to continue working in the lab over the summer. We have collected a lot of additional data related to my abstract and we hope to pull it all together for a final publication that will give us more answers.


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