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March 19, 2012

Another success for StemCellTalks

by Ben Paylor

SCTToronto1
Photo: Mario Moscovici
For those who have been involved with StemCellTalks, it’s hard to believe that it’s already in its third year. Some degree of perspective on the pace at which it has been growing can be found in the numbers associated with the event. To date, StemCellTalks symposia have been hosted six times in four different Canadian cities involving nearly a thousand high school students, hundreds of grad students and a growing list of prominent researchers. With a further two symposia planned for 2012 (Ottawa and Vancouver) and students mobilizing in new cities to expand the initiative, it’s clear that StemCellTalks is here to stay.

SCTToronto3
Photo: Mario Moscovici
Following in the footsteps of the symposia before it, StemCellTalks Toronto hosted its third iteration on March 9th, and with nearly 180 students in attendance, was the largest event to date. This year’s event was focused on the theme of cardiac stem cells and boasted an impressive collection of experts from academia and industry who debated some of the most pressing questions facing stem cell research today. Nika Shakiba, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto (Zandstra lab) and lead organizer of the 2012 Toronto symposium, had this to say about the event:

“What is incredible about StemCellTalks is that it has not only allowed high school students the opportunity to learn about the stem cell field from experts, but has given graduate students the opportunity to take on leadership roles in enabling and assisting in this knowledge transfer.”

If you are not familiar with StemCellTalks; its purpose, history and continued progress, a number of previous SCN blog posts and symposium websites can fill you in. Although it is a continually evolving initiative, with each event focusing on specific theme(s), much stays the same. The initial format and structure of the event remain largely unchanged. It’s underlying philosophy and purpose have, if anything, only become further developed and solidified. Most importantly, the enthusiasm and energy of those involved continues to build, a testament to continued success of the initiative.

SCTToronto2
Photo: Mario Moscovici
What hasn’t been commented on previously is a growing recognition of the positive impact that StemCellTalks is having, not just on public awareness of stem cell research but on those who volunteer their time to make it happen. Last year, StemCellTalks was included in an award presented to Let's Talk Science at the World Stem Cell Summit and one of its co-coordinators in Ottawa, Alexis Given, was awarded a CIHR-Synapse Mentorship award. Not even three months into 2012, and StemCellTalks has already been nominated for a group CIHR Synapse award and the lead organizer of the Toronto event, Nika Shakiba, has been awarded a Stem Cell Network Public Outreach Award to aid in its expansion. Additional evidence to the personal and professional development for those involved can be found in Paul Cassar, one of the founders of StemCellTalks, who has moved on from the organization to work as the Scientist-In-Residence at the Stem Cell Network as of January of this year.

The seventh and eighth StemCellTalks are scheduled for Ottawa and Vancouver (respectively) in the next month -- the contribution this initiative is making to young Canadian students only continues to grow. Although several of the founding members have gone on to bigger and bolder positions, the groundwork has been laid to ensure a continued legacy, one that many of us are excited to see unfold.

 

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