Reports From

ENCODS – satellite event of FENS 2018

Written by

ENCODS (European Neuroscience Conference by Doctoral Students) - is a PhD student-organized satellite event of FENS that took place on the 5th and 6th of July right at the border between Berlin and the wilderness.

The application consisted of filling out a form. Part of it was three questions on the future of Neuroscience. The applicants had to imagine what Neuroscience would look like in 100 years. These questions, together with an abstract, were used for the selection procedure. I applied for the event in February and started waiting for a response that took quite some time. In May, I received the acceptance email.

Part of the preparation to the conference was the active participation in the “digital space”. Attendees had to fill out a wiki page about themselves and I quickly realized that many people took this chance to practice their sense of humor. Nevertheless, it allowed everyone a brief look at the pool of participants gathered in the middle of nowhere and helped finding somebody with similar research or life interests. One month prior to the event, the organizers introduced us also to Slack, a free project management tool that works as a messaging platform, useful to quickly solve issues and answer organizational questions. Although it seemed like a good idea to have a common platform for communication, participants were quite reluctant to install yet another app on their phone and receive random notifications. Therefore, this messaging platform was rarely used and was not as useful as expected in the end.

The first day of the conference consisted of two keynote talks in the morning, followed by student talks in parallel sessions. You can have a look at the full programme here:
Since the conference was organized by fellow PhD students, the participants were also quite involved: attendees chaired all the sessions, for instance. While some students presented excellent data and received due recognition in form of special awards from the organizing committee at the end of the conference; from time to time, I had the feeling that some of the participants neither showed deep knowledge about their research topics nor presented their work in an engaging and convincing way. In my opinion, this highlights the importance of selecting good abstracts for such events to attract interested attendees, as well as the necessity of scientific speakers to be well prepared and give a good talk.

In the course of the event, we also had the chance to attend four brief workshops, held in parallel, about open science, the publication process (held by the co-Editor in Chief of the European Journal of Neuroscience), experiment design, and presentation skills.

Thereafter, we proceeded to the highlight of the conference – the Science and Society session. It hosted three speakers: a dancer, a musician, and a film director, who each presented their Neuroscience-related work. What touched me the most was the screening of the movie “Maniac”, by Kalina Bertin. It tells the story of the director’s father, who suffered from bipolar disorder. He had 15 children, two of which - the director’s sister and brother - suffer from the same disorder. The movie is available here:
These impressions were further deepened on the next day: we had the opportunity to experience Manic VR, a unique chance to put yourself in the shoes of a person suffering from this debilitating mental disorder. This was achieved by means of a virtual reality artistic representation of the four typical stages of bipolar disorder: hypomania, mania, psychosis, and depression. The VR session was followed by a very productive discussion on the future of this technology for scientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, as well as for the family members of mental health patients. Manifestations of some of the psychiatric disorders are quite difficult to relate to, and a VR experience, based on reports and personal stories of patients, could help scientists, doctors, and family members to better understand the manifestations of the disorder and provide more adequate help.

Another unconventional way of interaction was presented on the second day of the conference: the unconference. For this purpose, you had to pitch a topic for 30 seconds and pick a time-slot within three hours devoted to this session. Participants were very enthusiastic and pitched so many ideas that all time-slots were filled pretty quickly. We covered a very broad span of topics, among which there were: a meditation session, a session on cryptocurrency, the future of education, tips and tricks for the “elevator talk”, “looking beyond the p-value” and so on. During this unconference, you were supposed to use the rule of “two legs”: if you did not like the topic, you could just walk away and join a different session.

This experience showed me the necessity for more interactive scientific sessions as opposed to poster presentations and talks only. I hope this format will find its way to more and more scientific conferences.

To summarize, I found the event very useful for PhD students, especially as an opportunity for networking and interacting with the scientific community in a more relaxed atmosphere. The next ENCODS is taking place in Glasgow in 2019. If you are interested in helping to organize the event: they are currently looking for members to join the organizing committee and I would highly recommend you to apply.

Written by Margaryta Tevosian; Edited by Chiara Galante and Fazi Bekbulat. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

Go back