Recently I went to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in San Diego, California. This meeting, which takes place once a year, is a great opportunity for neuroscientists all around the world to exchange their ideas and share the progress of their research. Try the picture the scene: 30 000 researchers from more than 70 countries, all gathering in a 50 000 m² convention center for 5 days, and giving more than 16 000 scientific presentations. It was my first time there, and the word that best describes it is overwhelming!!
I went there to present some results about a neuroimaging study I did on pathological gambling. Pathological gambling is a behavioral addiction, which is characterized by uncontrolled gambling behavior leading to negative consequences, and a narrow focus on monetary rewards compared to other sources of pleasure such as food or sex. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), we have found that this motivational imbalance is also reflected in the brain: the so-called “reward circuit” of gamblers reacts more strongly to visual cues predicting monetary compared to non-monetary rewards. I was presenting those results in a session dedicated to gambling behavior, along with five other researchers from the US, UK, Canada, and China. It was on the last day of the conference and people were a little sleepy, but we received very positive feedback. I was later approached by a researcher from Singapore potentially interested in using our approach for diagnostic purposes. That’s great!
Mind you, going to a conference comes with a few costs, and not just financial: you need to invest time in preparing a talk or a poster presentation, you are away from the lab for a week, and the jet lag usually hits you pretty hard. But those costs are definitely outweighed by all the positive outcomes. First, it is very exciting to share your “discoveries” with other researchers and get feedback from them. It is also an excellent opportunity for networking and setting up new collaborations. And of course, a conference is fun! You go out at night, have some drinks and try local food; you meet new people and expand your horizons; and you also catch up with old colleagues whom you haven’t seen in a while. And last but not least, you get to travel to great places; in 2015 there’s a great conference in Hawaii… I’m keeping an eye on it :-) !!