Q&A with Pratik Bhojnagarwala and Alexandra Indeglia, Organizers of Wistar’s First Trainee Research Symposium
On Friday, February 24, 2023, more than 175 postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students from around Philadelphia came together for the very first Wistar Institute Trainee Research Symposium. The Symposium was developed and run by leaders of Wistar’s Trainee Association, namely the association co-president Pratik Bhojnagarwala, and co-president Alexandra Indeglia, both of whom are graduate students at Wistar.
Why is it important for trainees to have opportunities to present their research?
Normally, if graduate students and postdocs are presenting research, it’s to people within our Institute or maybe a couple different departments in our university. You don’t get that larger degree of exposure because, nine times out of 10, the PIs running the labs are the ones giving talks at big conferences. So, this was really designed as a steppingstone to those more senior conferences where you’re going to be giving a talk to an even larger, more diverse audience.
What were some of your other goals for the symposium?
Enabling crosstalk between trainees across Philadelphia was one of our goals from the beginning. We had six presenters who gave wonderful talks in very different fields, and after their talks, people gave them feedback, talked about next steps, and discussed how they could potentially move their research forward. That really hit our goal in terms of fostering collaborations and encouraging communication between the trainees at different institutions.
Also, one of our goals was to take an opportunity to showcase Wistar as a place of excellence in science that fosters a highly collaborative environment. We have graduate students from three different universities; we’ve got master’s students from multiple universities; our postdocs come from all different states and countries. Italo Tempera gave one of our keynote speeches, and he’s not only a current faculty member but also did his postdoc here. So, we used this Symposium to highlight personal experiences that people have encountered at Wistar and the kind of mark it’s made on their careers.
What do you hope people take away from the event?
As Philadelphia is becoming this “Cellicon Valley” and home of cell and gene therapy, it’s great to be part of this mission where we are training the next generation of scientists to contribute to the development of biotech advances and improve healthcare outcomes globally. This Symposium is our attempt at making a dent. We wanted an exciting event to provide more undergrads opportunities—all the way through graduate school—and give them the spotlight that they deserve. We hope to host more and that they become even bigger and better in the future.