International Society for Computational Biology

Highlights from the Student Council Symposium 2016

On July 8 2016, computational biologists, bioinformaticians and computer scientists from around the world gathered in Orlando, Florida for a day of lectures, student presentations and networking. Only the 12th annual Student Council Symposium (SCS) could bring together such a diverse group of students from different backgrounds centered around computational biology.

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

John Quackenbush opened the day with a keynote lecture packed with advice for the early-career scientists in the room. He opened with this well-known quote attributed to George Box and stressed that research isn’t about perfection. Any model will have inherent flaws (especially when dealing with network biology!), but that’s OK. Good models can help solve the problem at hand and move scientific understanding forward.

Janet Thornton followed later in the day, detailing her career path from student, to PI, to eventual director of European Bioinformatics Institute. At each step she left the audience with vignettes and advice: “You have to work hard, and it only gets harder.” Tough words to hear for a room full of students who already devote countless hours to their research, but Janet made sure to emphasize the increased workload was balanced out by an increase in excitement.

Throughout the day, students gave oral presentations about research they’re conducting, both in the lab and behind a keyboard. The topics ranged from protein structure prediction to cancer biology and drug discovery. A poster session closed out the day’s formal activities, with opportunities to ask tough questions about the presentations and understand the research a little better.

A unique feature of SCS2016 was a presentation and workshop by our sponsor Elsevier. Representatives from the company demoed the Pathway Studio program, a knowledge exploration tool designed to facilitate understanding known biology and generating new hypotheses. Our other sponsors (Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Oxford University Press, F1000 and Eli Lilly) generously donated money to support travel fellowships and prizes. SCS2016 wouldn’t happen without our sponsors, so thank you!

The SCS2016 organizers would also like to thank the volunteers who were a major help in planning the symposium and students who attended and made the symposium special. See you all in Prague for SCS 2017!

Written by Ben Siranosian (@BenSiranosian) and Bart Cuypers (@cuypersb)