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Experiences in Baltimore, MD

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Well, I’ve finally collected myself enough to make a meaningful contribution to the blog, so why don’t I recount the promised tale of the conference I attended last week.

The topic of the conference was a trio of diseases: Cockayne Syndrome (CS), Trichothiodystrophy (TTD) and Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), and I was there because one of my projects here in Baltimore involves one of the two proteins responsible for CS. My invitation to the conference was rather sudden, and there was a dearth of information beforehand, so I didn’t really know what to expect, other than the topic and the fact that it was in Virginia.

I had a chance to look at the program while riding down there in Morten’s Mustang, and it became clear there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of free time. The two full days had planned event from 8 in the morning to about 9 in the evening, followed by ‘poster socializing’, implying the chance to simultaneously (re)acquaint yourself with the other scientists and grab a few drinks. The two half days were… half as busy, but since that just allowed for travel time it wasn’t much help in that regard.

Westfield Marriott Dulles Conference Center

The Westfield Marriott Dulles Conference Center turned out to be a very nice location for the event, and aside from the classy-but-mismatched decor (Chinese guardian lions next to faux Rennaissance paintings) and extravagant room (two double beds, with me as the sole occupant), it turned out to have a decent fitness center, and a perfectly acceptable buffet for three meals a day. While nice, this also had the effect of pushing both the schedule and my intermittent fasting to the breaking point; I wanted to take advantage of the free weights in the gym, since I don’t have access to those here in Bmore. But, gym visits had to be squeezed in before or after the daily program, meaning that I either got up at 6:30 or snuck off during the socializing. The intermittent fasting also saw major restructuring, since it wouldn’t be conducive towards scientific networking to skip all the meals on one of the days; in the end I managed to juggle it around so I only had one extra eating day, which is just fine (and meant I didn’t have to miss anything that was offered).

Room overkill

The talks and presentations were generally very interesting as well. Some fundamentals, that were very informative for a neophyte like myself, and some pretty significant new findings. And of course a few boring ones, but that’s inevitable. Exciting stuff, so it was quite regrettably that I couldn’t help but to doze off a little during a few of them. It’s a familiar weakness of mine, and even though I resorted to one or more cups of coffee a day (more than I’ve had the last year), it just wasn’t possible to maintain the required pace throughout. Get up at 6:30 to work out, sit through 10 hours of talks (using all the breaks to analyze the data that came in just before leaving the lab) and then socializing in the bar until one or two in the morning, only to do it all over again the following day. I slept a lot last weekend…

The most interesting thing about the conference, for me, was that it wasn’t just scientists. There were doctors working with the aforementioned diseases, representatives from support groups and several patients. It’s a very strange experience to be confronted with a person who is debilitated by a mutation in the protein that you’re researching; it takes a big mental leap to abstract from pipetting aqueous solutions of the CSA protein into Eppendorf tubes to helping someone who’s aging at a greatly accelerated rate because he doesn’t produce this protein. A strange experience, but a good one.


Written by Martin

2010/10/03 at 16:27

Posted in Uncategorized

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