From attending lectures on extracellular vesicle (EV) research in dust to consuming smoked fish for breakfast; attending my first congress across the world in Japan was a surprising but amazing experience.
When I received an email with the confirmation of my abstract being accepted for a poster presentation for a congress I wanted to attend since I started working within the field of EV research, I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe I was going to attend a conference in Japan until the moment I stepped out of the plane. It was surreal. So, tons of coffee later to deal with the 9-hour time difference and the worst travel companion (my poster which was at my side the whole 24-hour travel time), let me tell you about me surviving my first congress.
My biggest concern was the language, as a proud speaker of three other languages, I unfortunately had no idea how to even approach the Japanese language. Travelling to Japan was the biggest trip I have done in my life, so expectedly I had all the information saved and printed, to ensure I wouldn’t get lost travelling from the airport and back. Fortunately, during my layover in Dubai, I met another student from Germany who, awkwardly like me, was guarding their poster more than any other of our personal belongings. We decided to travel together from Osaka international airport to Kyoto which turned out to be easy and relaxed. I arrived at the hotel just few hours before it was time for bed so I decided to be brave and explore the Japanese cuisine for dinner. Most of the week, just like the first night in the restaurant, consisted of me ordering meals which I had no idea about the ingredients it consisted of. However, I found my new love in Japan-Ramen.
The conference: ISEV- International society for extracellular vesicles
One of the exciting things about an international congress is seeing your colleagues from around the world and how many other researchers are dedicated to your field. Extracellular vesicle research, although growing, is still lacking the same spotlight other areas already receive.
Going to a congress on the other side of the world comes with many positives as well as some problems you must prepare for. One of them being a significant time change, to avoid living on caffeine (like me) I would advise anyone to arrive a day early and rest. Unfortunately, with an already 24-hour travel, it was impossible for me to take more time to rest.
The conference specialises in the field of extracellular vesicles and takes place in a different part of the world each year to allow researchers from all over the world to participate. Prior to the congress an education day takes place where the basics of extracellular vesicle research are being taught.
Over a time of 4 days, specialists from each field present their work which consists of oral and poster presentations. Many companies are involved in advertising their new innovations. Networking during these events is a key to learning and making collaborations and making connections with people you previously didn’t know, but work in the same area as you. Speaking to them allows you to learn new approaches to your work. This part can be especially difficult when it is your first conference and you don’t know anyone at the conference but remember that many other PhD students and specialists in the field are in the same position as you.
Over the 4 days, series of lectures and poster presentations take place, separated into different categories of research such as cardiovascular disease or nephrology. I chose to go to mostly technical seminars to learn the most about different methods in EV research which could be relevant to my PhD project. The first two days I tried to attend every session possible but I soon realised that going to talks which are completely irrelevant only weakened my focus for the ones I was really interested in. Working your hardest but taking a relaxed approach is the best way to attend those meetings, otherwise you are completely overwhelmed with new information.
My poster presentation consisted of a two-minute oral talk with one of the congress directors. The real test came later when specialists in your field come and can question all the methods you performed because they do something differently, which in the field of EV research is very common. However, this gave me a chance to meet more colleagues and make connections with researchers in my field and to find out about their research.
Culture and language
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for a long time, now, it is a site of many world heritage sites. Countless temples and shrines make Kyoto one of the most unique places to visit. The city is a perfect combination of the ancient and modern Japan. During my visit the abdication of the old emperor occurred and his son, now the new emperor of Japan took his place. Due to this, Kyoto was filled with women dressed in traditional kimono outfits which added to the amazing experience.
One of my favourite places to discover was the fresh food market, where I tried many foods and bought specialities of the region, for example matcha tea. As Japan is also famous for their advanced skincare, I overloaded my bag with products all Japanese women were buying. This concluded my final days; I was happily going back to Italy where I even started to miss the typical breakfast consisting of a cornetto and a cappuccino!
Until next time Japan!