Finally, an in-person symposium!» Go to news main
News and events
Last month, I attended the 4th Symposium of the Canadian Society of Virology (CSV), which took place at the University of Alberta. The symposium was the first in-person event hosted by CSV in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the meeting was met with record attendance (345 attendees) and showcased the exciting virology research taking place across Canada and internationally.
For many trainees, this symposium marked the first national symposium they could attend in- person since starting their graduate programs. As such, Dalhousie professors Dr. Craig McCormick and Dr. Denys Khaperskyy led eleven members from their labs to Edmonton to present their virology research to their peers and colleagues in the field.
Representing the McCormick lab, I was among many graduate trainees displaying a poster presentation about my PhD research. I presented my studies focused on how Kaposi’s sarcoma- associated herpesvirus subverts the host cellular stress response during infection, titled ‘A KSHV ubiquitin ligase targets the cellular stress sensor PERK for degradation’.
As one would expect for a virology symposium during a pandemic, there was intense focus on applied aspects of virology and pandemic preparedness, with sessions dedicated to emerging viruses, epidemiology, antivirals and virus-host interactions. Trainees of all levels attended, and I enjoyed presentations from undergraduate, Masters and PhD students, in addition to those from PDFs and PIs. Four competitions were held, for oral presentations and poster presentations at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
I appreciated the diversity within the virology research covered at this year’s symposium. There was, as anticipated, a large amount of exciting research focusing on SARS-CoV-2, but I also enjoyed updates on the progress being made in understanding other viruses like HIV, Zika, monkeypox and Ebola virus.
CSV award winners
Congratulations to the MICI faculty and students that received research awards at this year's meeting!
Outstanding research presentations
Some remarkable talks that stood out to me included those delivered by PhD candidate Aïssatou Aïcha Sow titled ‘A novel zebrafish-based in vivo model of Zika virus infection unveils NS4A as a key viral determinant of neuropathogenesis’, PI Leonard Foster presenting on honeybee health and their virome, and PI David Marchant presenting on control and prevention strategies for respiratory syncytial virus.
Additionally, I found poster presentations from Anna Appah titled ‘Molecular characterization of HIV-1 diversity in Ghana’, Darren Gemmill titled ‘Biophysical characterization of Zika virus RNA terminal region - human RNA-binding protein complexes’, and Ethan Thomas titled ‘A Role for the
HSV Tegument Protein pUL21 in Retention of Viral Genomes Within Capsids’, to be fascinating and inspiring.
Notably, I want to highlight the difference in the quality of my symposium experience now that we are back in-person. I attended some excellent virtual conferences in 2020 and 2021, but there is something to be said about the ability to shake people’s hands and see the faces of my colleagues while we chat. I gained an appreciation for the important role of social interactions play in maintaining a well-rounded research community.
On the final day of the symposium, I received a poster presentation award. The student I am mentoring, Trinity Franklin, received a poster award as well in the undergraduate category. I am incredibly proud of Trinity and her ability to present the research she conducted during her time under my supervision in the MICI3620 Experiential Learning course. I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue to work with Trinity this summer and look forward to helping to mentor her during her upcoming honours research project. Additionally, Estelle Gamage Samaraweera, who conducted her honours research in our lab this past school year, received an award for her oral presentation in the undergraduate research category.
Not only was I riding high on the experience of attending this symposium and engaging with my peers, but I also received the news of being awarded the Scotia Scholars Doctoral scholarship while attending the symposium. I look forward to continuing to work on my KSHV project with the support of this studentship.
Alexa Wilson at the CSV carnival banquet
Work hard, play harder!
Outside of academic activities, CSV hosted two additional events that I would like to highlight. First, they organized a trainee networking dinner that split trainees into groups based on our interest in a variety of research-related topics, such as strategies to improve our oral and poster presentation skills. We then rotated tables three times during dinner, moving to new groups that focused on a different topic. Each table was led by an expert in these topics. For example, the first table I was at covered the topic ‘staying on top of the literature’ and I gained new tips and tricks to help me keep track of new publications in my field.
Secondly, CSV held a carnival banquet at Fort Edmonton Park on the final day of the symposium. The event featured carnival rides, games and a fun house filled with warped mirrors and spooky displays. It was awesome seeing professors playing games and going on rides- I tied Dr. Khaperskyy in a game called Knockdown the Clown! The banquet was a wonderful way to close the conference on a high note and enjoy the kind of hospitality only Alberta can provide.
Alexa and her colleague, Trinity, with backpacks given with their research awards
See you at CSV 2024
Overall, the value of presenting my research, receiving constructive feedback, and gaining new ideas for future experiments was invaluable. My compliments to all eight CSV co-organizers, as well as event organizers Isabella Ma and Lisa Cruthers, for planning and executing the symposium. I would be remiss if I did not say how impressed I am by how the McCormick and Khaperskyy labs represented Dalhousie at the symposium. I thank the entire CSV organization for this opportunity and travel awards bestowed upon myself and Trinity Franklin which helped us attend this symposium. See you next time!
Simon Gebremeskel wins the Dalhousie 3-minute thesis contest!» Go to news main
News and events
The Dalhousie University 3MT (3 Minute Thesis) competition was held March 1st and 2nd. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology had two graduate students compete in this competition run by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS). Vinothkumar Rajan (supervisor Dr. Jason Berman), and Simon Gebremeskel (Supervisor, Dr. Brent Johnston) both presented their research in separate heats on Wednesday.
At the competition, students present their thesis, in layman’s terms, in three minutes to three judges and an audience. This year there were 90 students from 33 different degree programs that presented at this competition. Competitors were judged on communication style, comprehension, and engagement. Both students presented extremely well.
Simon, presenting 'Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer', was the winner of his heat which meant he was invited to join the other nine heat winners in the finals held Thursday evening. At the end of the presentations, Simon was announced as the winner of the Dalhousie University 3MT competition for 2017. Simon receives a $1000 prize, his name on a commemorative plaque in the FGS Office, and an expense paid trip to compete in the Eastern Regional 3MT competition, which will be held on April 20th at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. The top three presenters from that competition will have a recording of their presentation forwarded to the National 3MT competition later this year.
Congratulations and well done to both our competitors, and the very best of luck to Simon on the next stage of this competition.