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Stories from the community: Trainee Professional Development Award granting exposure to young Indian scientists

Prachi Ojha

In the ninth article as part of community voices for international grants and fellowships, Prachi shares her journey to networking and building collaborations with the help of Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Trainee Professional Development Award (TPDA).

Prachi Comm Call

The most important aspect in the journey of a researcher is to present his or her work in front of experts from the field as well as to engage in exhilarating scientific discussions with people from within the community. This was the aim with which I decided to apply for Neuroscience 2021, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). SfN’s annual meeting is the biggest neuroscience consortium that helps in bringing together neuroscientists working on a variety of topics under one roof. The idea was to present my work in front of the scientific community to gain some interesting insights and inputs as well as to meet potential collaborators and form new networks.

The meeting happens in the United States every year, and a major limitation was the lack of funds to travel from India accompanied by the uncertainty that prevailed amidst the pandemic. Neuroscience 2020 had already been cancelled due to the pandemic thus, Neuroscience 2021 was a landmark event because it was SfN’s 50th annual meeting. 

Being in the final year of my Ph.D. with my work almost reaching completion, I felt this was the right time to present my project in the meeting. Without giving it a second thought, I applied for the meeting. An important point to note here is that being from a third world country, the organizers give a lot of concession in the membership fees and in the abstract submission fees to Indian students.

At the same time, many students are also not aware that the society also grants several awards such as the Trainee Professional Development Award (TPDA). TPDA is given to undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows based on their scientific merit and covers the entire cost of travel and registration for the meeting. Apart from this, the awardees get year-round access to professional development workshops and neuronline discussion forums. I stumbled upon this award while browsing through the SfN website and was thrilled to listen to the experiences of the past awardees. The application included an abstract for the meeting, a detailed curriculum vitae highlighting education, awards and publications, a letter of recommendation from the supervisor as well as a short essay on any topic of our choice that is scientifically relevant and has impacted one’s career professionally or personally. My selection as an awardee meant that I can travel to the meeting and meet several other awardees and peers working in my field to make fruitful connections.

Things took a completely different turn when the meeting switched from a hybrid mode to a completely virtual one. Nonetheless, the awardees were given ribbons to distinguish them from others and the cost of registration was still compensated. I still have access to the TPDA discussion forums and online professional development workshops. I miss not being able to meet and interact with scientists in person. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend and encourage others to apply for such international travel awards because more than covering the travel, they actually help in a researcher’s professional development. For example, in my case, I found several scientists whose work aligned with my research interest and it helped me choose the right kind of work for starting the next phase of my career in the form of a postdoctoral fellow.

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