Dr. Natalia Machado is a staff scientist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an Instructor in Neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA.

In 2020 she was awarded an IBRO-USCRC NSP Fellowship, which is now part of the currently open IBRO Travel Grants call. The fellowship enabled her to virtually attend 3 meetings hosted by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory: The virtual 2020 Neuronal Circuits course, the virtual 2020 Molecular Mechanisms of Neuronal Connectivity course and the virtual 2020 Scientific Writing Retreat.

We linked up with Natalia to see how she experienced attending virtual conferences during these challenging times and if she had any advice for those thinking of applying to an IBRO Travel Grant.

How did the IBRO grant help you in your career?

I would like to start by saying how much I appreciated the opportunity offered by IBRO to attend the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) courses and meetings. It was extremely important to have IBRO support during these times where all of us had to adapt to a virtual form of interactions. In particular for academia, a great part of the job is to be connected to other researchers – our work is improved by formal and casual interactions with our peers. In the new scenario that is imposed on us due to the pandemic, the virtual meetings have filled some of the gaps in this exchange with our peers. Both meetings and the writing course had wonderful scientific and non-scientific content.

I would like to mention particularly the CSHL writing retreat, which I think it should be a must-do to all experienced post-docs and early career faculty. It changed not only my writing, it also inserted structure and method to it.

What was it like to give a virtual presentation?

I have presented both virtual posters or oral presentations. I found it difficult to present my work through virtual formats due to the lack of personal interactions and a direct feedback. I believe that an important aspect in presenting my work is to perceive how the audience is responding to it. That said, I think the virtual format is a good alternative when in-person meetings are not possible, and it is in fact a convenient format.

You expected to connect with peers and improve your writing, even though you attended virtual courses, were your expectations met?

I found it difficult to connect with peers at the virtual meetings. Usually, we would have many opportunities to talk during a multi-day in-person meeting, while in the virtual format the interactions are more restricted to the presentation time and perhaps a specific follow-up. On the other hand, the multi-day format of the virtual CHSL writing course, which was mainly focused on small groups (about 5 people), allowed a more productive time and better interactions.

Should IBRO continue to offer support for virtual meetings or courses?

Although I prefer the in-person format of meetings and courses, I understand that the virtual format can be more convenient and inclusive for many of the researchers that IBRO supports. The possibility of using a virtual format or a virtual format that is integrated with in-person may allow more participation. Virtual alternatives proved to work during an emergency condition (as the 2020-21 pandemic) and may be beneficial in reducing financial costs for the scientific societies and attendees. In addition, it reduces environmental impact. Thus, the virtual format of meetings may allow more researchers to educate themselves by attending courses or meetings from their countries and homes.

Anything to say to fellow scientists who are thinking of applying to an IBRO Travel Grant?

I would say to my fellow scientists to apply to the IBRO Travel Grant. I think we all are part of a global science community and it is important to participate, learn and interact with each other.

The applications for the IBRO Travel Grant are open until 31 March.

Apply here