April 27, 2014

Last April, our entire program packed up and drove to Baltimore for my first ever student exchange. After all our end-of-year deadlines and lost sleep, I don't even remember being on that bus. All of that changed once we arrived at Johns Hopkins University, and met the students there, as well as delegates from Georgia Regents University. Student conferences are so valuable as places to network and learn, and I couldn't wait for BMC to host it the following year. I started making plans with our program director, Nick Woolridge, on the bus ride home. This week, all of those plans came to life, with the help of 18 other BMC student organizers.

You can view our full program of events here.

Photo credit: Priya Panchal
University of Toronto plays proud hosts to over 100 medical illustration delegates.

We had a lot of ambition going into this meeting. We invited delegates from the University of Illinois at Chicago, so that all four graduate programs in medical illustration in North America would be represented. We wanted to involve students, for the first time, in planning the exchange. We re-branded the conference with a more meaningful name - something that people could proudly list on their CV. This was how the Biocommunication Academic Meeting was born. More fondly, we just like to call it BAM.

We branded everything. Even the cake.

We gave students opportunities share their skills at the symposia and the workshops. This was a great opportunity for students to actively exchange ideas. We received so many great suggestions that we ran several workshops in parallel so that delegates could choose the topics that most interested them, and many ended up being standing room only!

At the workshops, I got to try my hand at making a famed and fabled skin ball by layering shaders in Cinema 4D to get a little bit closer to an organic look.

We had local and international guest speakers, including David Goodsell, Associate Professor at the Molecular Graphics Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute, and author and illustrator of The Machinery of Life and the Molecule of the Month series on the Protein Data Bank website. He revolutionized the way people look at cellular environments - from vast water-filled spaces, to packed molecular environments. As a special treat, he walked us through the evolution of his art, and even some photos of his process work - which he had photographed for the first time the week before! It was fun to see how his style and colour palettes changed over time. He even critiqued my thesis animation, and then he signed my copy of The Machinery of Life!

One of my medical illustration heroes, David Goodsell, shared some of his process work towards a watercolour of a molecular environment. I gasped out loud.
Later, he also agreed to sign my book, and also said that yes - he DOES accept requests for custom watercolours!

We also had the pleasure of hosting Hooley McLaughlin, Vice-President of Science Experience and Chief Science Officer at the Ontario Science Centre, as our closing speaker. I knew he would be amazing, because he taught my Curating Science course last term. He challenged us to think about what makes a meaningful learning experience, and how we understand fact and truth. I have to admit, I was excited to see the rope come out again, as a demonstration of our inability to understand very large or small scales. Last time, we were out on the street. This time the rope wrapped all the way around the room. It turned into a discussion of the (pre)history of humans and civilization, and distances in outer space.

Photo credit: Jodie Jenkinson
Hooley McLaughlin breaks out a rope to demonstrate our inability to understand small fractions.

We opened up the archives and had a special display at our opening reception, and weekend guided tours of the anatomy books at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, the human specimens at the JCB Grant's Museum. Almost every meal was included, and expertly catered. We managed to recruit sponsorship from university and industry sources, and some of those companies even wanted to come meet the students and present posters. Our digital salon slideshow was playing in our lobby and our screens during the breaks. Our guests were staying at a hotel right in the heart of downtown Toronto.

It was pretty much perfect. I was a very proud Conference Chair.

Photo credit: Priya Panchal
During his remarks at the Opening Reception, Nick Woolridge introduced me as the Conference Chair, and described me as an iron fist in a velvet glove. I'm still contemplating just what that means.

As further proof of the tremendous strength of our community, after finding out at the last moment that a speaker could not make it the next day, our sponsors came through for us in another big way: they volunteered to band together and form an impromptu panel discussion on life after graduation. Thank you so much Dustin Holmes from imagineeringart.com and Desmond Ballance and Victoria Cansino from LifeLearn for saving the day!

Photo credit: Andrew Q. Tran
Our expert panel tells us about life in industry after graduation. From left to right: Dustin Holmes from imagineeringart.com and Victoria Cansino and Desmond Ballance from LifeLearn.

I am very much looking forward to hearing about how this annual event continues to evolve and grow in future years.

UPDATE: We received such lovely thank you notes from our guests! I wanted to share a few of them with you.

Gary Lees from JHU "expresses his thanks."
Christine Young from UIC sends her thanks from the newest addition to the annual student exchange.