We recently sat down for an interview with Deniz Vatansever, the founder and president of CamBRAIN – The Cambridge Neuroscience Society.
I studied neuroscience in my bachelors and masters degrees and now I am a third year PhD student in Clinical Neurosciences. My research uses MRI to look at resting state and task-based, functional connectivity. The general aim of the research is to understand how different parts of the brain come together, as networks, to give rise to behaviour. For my PhD, I am specifically looking at how the default mode network is involved in cognition.
Tell us about CamBRAIN.
CamBRAIN is a young-investigators society at the University of Cambridge, which aims to bring together the undergraduate, postgraduate, post-doctoral and research assistant members with an interest in neuroscience. The primary focus of CamBRAIN is to foster communication and collaborations.
How did the founding of CamBRAIN come about?
I joined the Cambridge Neuroscience Forum as the PhD representative from the Addenbrooke’s site. At the meetings I met Dervila Glynn, the Cambridge Neuroscience Coordinator, and we discussed how best to bring young investigators from across the university together. There are about fifty different neuroscience institutions at Cambridge who come together at academic talks but rarely in more social settings. So the main drive for founding CamBRAIN was to provide more opportunities for people, from different areas of neuroscience, to meet socially. The ultimate goal is that meeting in these more social settings will help foster collaborations. The executive committee for CamBRAIN was only established at the end of September 2014 but we have already signed up over 600 members and run several different social events.
That’s a very impressive number. Can you tell us a bit more about what CamBRAIN has achieved, so far?
So, having signed up over 600 people at the Freshers Societies Fair we hosted a welcome reception for our new members to introduce people to the society. In collaboration with Cambridge Neuroscience and ESRC funding we had a ‘Brain and Behaviour – Speed Networking’ session between the young investigators. We have since organised NeuroTalks which basically allows students, at different stages of their research, to present in a ‘TED-like’ manner on their work. The idea behind this is to give people, in different areas of neuroscience, a flavour for the kind of research that is going-on in Cambridge. Furthermore, presenting at the NeuroTalks provides the young investigators with the opportunity to gain more experience at public-speaking, in a more relaxed setting. Currently, we are working with the Wellcome Trust, Cinelive and the British Film Institute on ‘immersive science’ events for 13 and 14 year olds. For the rest of the term we are planning, in collaboration with the Cambridge Psychiatry Graduates’ representatives, a neuroscience-themed pub quiz and a Christmas event. We have also set up ‘GABA Agonistas’ to run all term, so every Wednesday night we go to a local pub to give people a chance to mingle in a relaxed setting. The feedback we have gotten so far has been very positive so I guess that would be the biggest success.
What have been the challenges in setting up CamBRAIN?
We set up CamBRAIN in late September and the Freshers Societies Fair was early October so the main challenge was the time-frame. We had to get the society officially registered with the university; design the logo; make flyers and a banner, in time for the Societies Fair. The other challenge has been generating and maintaining interest. We have had good numbers attend the events so far: about 60 for the welcome event; 30 for the networking event and 30 for the NeuroTalks. So the next challenge will be keeping up this momentum and ensuring that people continue to see value in the Society.
How would you like to see CamBRAIN develop in the future?
The society has several interest groups such as neuroethics and neurolaw, so next year we will be looking to do more debates. We will also be looking for support from senior staff for guidance on who could be involved in those debates. I must stress though that CamBRAIN is not just a society where you go for a talk, it’s very much an active membership. We want to encourage and support people, especially with the interest groups, in coming forward with ideas that they feel passionate about. Next year, we will also be looking to organise events for the specific groups under the ‘young investigators’ umbrella such as, an ‘Ask a PhD Student or Post-doc’ event for the undergraduates, so they can get some advise on how to get involved in research. Similarly, several of our members have children so we are hoping to create a network and events which are tailored for them as, some members have said, they can feel a bit isolated at times because of their extra responsibilities.
In terms of where CamBRAIN is going, I would like to see the society grow further so that it attracts quite a bit of attention, not just in Cambridge but nationwide as well. There are a few similar groups in London, Bristol and Edinburgh so I would like to see CamBRAIN be considered a prominent young investigators neuroscience society amoung them.
Thank you Deniz, and congratulations on such a great start to CamBRAIN – The Cambridge Neuroscience Society.
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