Under pressure: the organisers of the student conference raise the bar every year
The Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) Student Conference is like a ship with history that dates back as far as 69 years! Up until recently it had only been navigating local waters, but five years ago the Student Union made this event international – it is now the largest student conference in the Baltic States. The organising team consists of more than 20 students led by 4th year medical student Ulrika Ulla Andersone. Currently in the final stages of preparation she gives us a preview of what we can expect on 4-5 April.
Last year’s conference gathered around 2 000 participants from 25 countries and was awarded Project of the Year by the Student Union of Latvia. How do you feel working on this year's event?
It's clear that the bar for this year's conference has been set super-high. It was already high last year when it was made into a two-day conference for the first time. Unexpectedly many international students participated last year without exaggeration placing the event on par with other internationally well-known student conferences. The level the RSU Student Research Conference has reached in the recent years puts pressure on us who are organising this year's conference.
RSU is hosting Research Week for the first time this year. This event is comprised of three large-scale conferences over five days filled with all-day events dedicated to research. This naturally poses additional challenges to us as it means that internal competition has greatly intensified. One of our greatest challenges this year will be to stay visible and stand out considering the renowned researchers, the topics and the level of research at Research Week during 1-3 April which will take place just before our conference.
What does the Student Conference currently look like in terms of figures?
We are proud with what we have achieved so far – the number of abstracts has increased by almost a quarter. Furthermore the number of social scientists who have shown interest in this event has tripled.
For the fifth year running the conference has been an international event – this year we have received 70 abstracts from abroad, from countries such as Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kosovo. Lithuanians are predominant among foreign participants, and have been for years. This year we are very happy to see that the number of German students has increased.
Unlike previous years this year’s conference will feature three, rather than two, key note speakers: Associate Professor Noël Christopher Barengo (Florida International University) who will report on the prevention of diabetes mellitus, Professor Matthew Goldsmith (Washington University) who will present his subject ‘Recognition, evaluation and initial treatment of seriously ill children’, and journalist Sandra Kropa who is one of the only people in Latvian media specialising in how research is communicated and will speak about the role of media in communication on healthcare and environmental issues.
Thanks to student science interest groups various workshops on how to improve practical knowledge will be held.
We have also put a lot of thought into making a tour of Rīga as interesting as possible to conference attendees and participants. We are going to show some traditional places – the Old Town, art nouveau landmarks – as well as a few less common ones – the Saeima building, as well as My Clinic Rīga where we will be kindly welcomed by RSU alumni and director of the clinic, Māris Arājs. We will end the tour by visiting the Central Market, which, we believe, is interesting to any foreign guest.
It seems that the greatest challenge for attendees will be time management.
Yes [laughs]. Our challenge at the moment is to plan the schedule and to figure out how to fit all the plenary sessions, sessions, poster presentations, workshops, excursions, the Rīga tour and all the other activities into two days.
I assume that it's not easy to lead a team that does all of that. Tell me, how did you come to manage this ambitious project?
It all started at the end of my second year when I finally had the chance to slip away from my studies for a moment and volunteer to help the Student Union with the conference. I was asked to coordinate the local jury together with one other person. This responsibility left a great impression on me. The jury included many prominent professors which really impressed me!
I care greatly about results so it was hard for me to work for nine months without being able to see the fruits of my labour, but on the day of the event everything went as planned. It was very intense, and I was very satisfied. Talking to my colleagues after the event, while still in a post-conference euphoria, I allowed for the possibility that I could organise the conference this year. This was my ‘mistake.’ [laughs] I tried to talk my way out of it when Sandra Cipkina, [the project manager of the Student Research Conference 2018 – Ed.], asked me again about organising the conference over the summer, but she reminded me of my initial consent. So, on 13 June I became the Project Manager of Student Research Conference 2019.
Almost nine months have passed since the moment you took the lead on the project.
Yes, that's symbolic! [Laughs] We also subconsciously think of this event as our baby. Each member of the team, which consists of more than 20 people, has their ups and downs. You need to have a lot of enthusiasm in order for this ‘baby’ to see the light of day. I now follow the principle that time spent complaining is time that could be spent doing something worthwhile.
How did you become a medical student?
In a way it's a very classic story – my mother is a physician. I basically grew up in a hospital and haven’t known anything else in my life. What else could I do? [Laughs] Additionally I will most likely choose gynaecology as my residency programme following my mother's footsteps in this respect as well.
I come from Tukums where I spent the first 15 years of my life until I was admitted to Āgenskalns State High School in Rīga. I was a little capricious as a child aiming to study in Rīga already in elementary school. I joined the chemistry and biology classes in high school, and many of my classmates are in my group here at RSU. It's so cool to meet at Dzirciema iela to gossip a bit. Frankly I'm high on medical studies, and I'm a total fan of RSU. We have fantastic lecturers and knowledgeable physicians that we can learn from and have as our mentors. We have a very international environment with mixed groups and many guest lecturers. It provides an opportunity to make a broad network of connections both on this, and the other side of the ocean. It makes sense that now that research has become so global that international conferences are held in this international study environment.