One Conference to Rule Them All: Why Nov2k is a Rising Star

credits: Fernanda Torre for Nov2k

UPDATE 6th Oct 2014: At this very Nov2k symposium, Dr Edvard Moser was one of the fantastic Keynote speakers. Today, one year later, Edvard Moser receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the cells in the brain that represent space.

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Few events in the busy calendar of Karolinska get me excited as Nov2k, the student-organized symposium that mixes people from different fields and throw them 60km away from Stockholm center. In the wood.

Only good things can happen.

From chemistry to neuroscience, from computational to development biology to epidemiology, Nov2k gathers the most enthusiast students and PIs of Karolinska in an incubator of ideas and inspiration.

This year keynote lectures included Miguel Nicolelis neuroscientists from Duke University; Ivan Oransky MD, journalist and CEO of RetractionWatchSamuel Weiss form Calgary University (Canada); and Ian Banks, president of Men’s Health Forum in UK (and MD of Pelé, legendary football player, he told us).

Don’t bother If you’ve never heard about them: if they come as Nov2k speakers, they must be awesome. This is pretty much the entry criteria.

 

Nov2k doesn’t only bring the best science on stage, but find the best presenters to deliver the message. Take Miguel Nicolelis, for example, who enchanted the audience with his ambitious project to make a paralyzed patient do the ‘kick off’ of the Football World Cup. Or take Edvard Moser, from Oslo University, who brought us into the uncharted geometry of the brain.

 

Nov2k is sponsored by the DECS Program and the Center for Gender Medicine of Karolinska Institutet, to which go the credit for having spotted the potential of the idea and believed in the project.

But not without difficulties.

Originally, Nov2k was little more then a department retreat run by students. But the beginning of an organization crisis convinced Kristina Volkova, PhD candidate at Södertörn University in Stockholm, to radically change the format.

“We tried to create something exceptionally new, but to do so and maintain the quality that everyone expects from a Karolinska symposium is very difficult” says Kristina. “Doing innovation is risky, but tradition was not going to keep Nov2k alive”

As Kristina will experience during the changes, it takes talent to do something totally new, and even the most creative PhD student in academia find her/himself entangle in one way of thinking. They needed hep from the outside.

“To renovate the symposium, we absolutely needed the intervention of experience designers” continue Kristina “people that can really think outside the box and shape the atmosphere of an event or a location to maximize its potential”

The concept worked. In three years, Nov2k has seen its budget doubling and industries that queues for a sponsor table. The symposium became a flagship of Karolinksa Institutet at Huddinge Campus, always in need for a shake.

What makes Nov2k, Nov2k?

Even in the innovative environment of Karolinska – which does promote initiatives – having students to design and drive a big conference is still rare, as administrators are so concern about the success and the exposure of events that control-freak professors often put sticks in the wheels of creativity.

But three years of Nov2k have proven that students organization is a winning concept: as suiciding as it sound, enthusiasm and passion (and minor guidance) is all it takes to change the rules of an old game, and make something outstanding out of an old idea.

A key ingredient to the success of the symposium is the absolute unorthodox way of making it: students introduce professors and moderate the sessions, pitch-presentations at lunch time, drawing tables, absurd flyers and comics competition.

Nov2k Symposium – Day 1

“What makes Nov2k unique is the variety of people attending and the variety of science presented” – says Lizan Kawa, PhD candidate at Dept of Neuroscience and organizer – “I would have never had the chance to go through any of the topic presented if it wasn’t for this conference format: the broader the better”.

This year conference theme was CREATIVITY, “chosen because we hoped to inspire the future generation of scientists, and to encourage them to move towards a more interdisciplinary research” says Tiago Pinheiro, PhD candidate at Cell and Molecular Biology Dept and organizer.

Oransky and I

Me and Ivan Oransky, NYU and CEO RetractionWatch

What can be learned?

Putting things in the right prospective, I have seen Nobel Forum events with less attendance then Nov2k.

Perhaps there may be room for an exchange of ideas on how to make a symposiums more attractive and useful on the regular basis.

I am a big advocate for student-driven initiatives: we work for free and we are averagely more enthusiasts then many professors, as science hasn’t totally crushed us down [yet]. Moreover, students who embrace the organization of a big conference underwent already a natural selection: you don’t send an emails to Miguel Nicolelis, Paul Root Wolpe, David Barker or Polly Matzinger [and get them to join the symposium] if you don’t have the gut for it.

Nov2k 2013 organizers and volunteers – source Facebook

Interdisciplinary conference: a waste of time?

I am not surprised to hear people that undermine the significance a symposium that lack a clear direction. Speakers form so many different disciplines may be seen as a waste of time, as there is no focuses on what really matter: your experiments.

I reasoned that if don’t wanna come for the inspiration, you should still come for the people: with your business cards on your left hand, you’ll walk through posters and science you have never heard before, all performed within 20 km from where you study, and done by people ready to share, give and build.

I connected with a Principal Investigator for a biobank I could use to look for my favorite genes, and with a chemistry student about a new chemical that may have unexpected applications in my hands.

It doesn’t matter the way you put it: there always going to be something important in an event like Nov2k, where not only the Science, but the overall experience is designed to maximize interaction and catalyze awesomeness.

Did you miss it? Keep your eye peeled for next year.

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