Vanderbilt International Researchers Alliance will host annual symposium highlighting international research, inclusion, and stories

The Vanderbilt International Researchers Alliance will host its second annual symposium on April 18 at the Community Event Space from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to highlight the research and stories of the university’s international community. This year, the event planned and executed by international trainees and staff is featuring the theme “Research and Stories.”

VIRAL comprises international and domestic graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members and aims to encourage intercultural awareness through educational, social, and multicultural initiatives. Events—including the upcoming symposium in April—are arranged to give the international community a platform to discuss their specific needs and challenges, including cultural and language barriers, funding opportunities, and visas.

All community members, including staff, faculty, graduate students, and postdocs, are invited to register and attend the event. International trainees are encouraged to use the event to present their research. Abstract submissions will be accepted until Feb. 20 and registration will remain open until March 9.

“We’re really excited to elevate the symposium and take it to newer heights,” said Ritika Raghavan, president of VIRAL and a Ph.D. student in Julio Ayala‘s lab at the Vanderbilt Brain Institute. “The whole symposium attempts to facilitate formal and informal discussions on these kinds of topics. It doesn’t necessarily solve these issues but at least it helps.”

The symposium, in large part supported by the graduate school, will include plenary talks, presentations by junior faculty, lightning talk sessions, a career panel, a poster session, and a happy hour, among other activities. Krish Roy, Bruce and Bridgitt Evans dean of engineering and a University Distinguished Professor in Biomedical Engineering, and Tong Li, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Social and Natural Sciences and professor of economics, will be the two plenary speakers. Last year’s symposium speaker was John Kuriyan, dean of the School of Medicine Basic Sciences, who like Raghavan hails from India. Kuriyan focused his talk on biomedical research and training, as most of VIRAL members are trainees.

“Everyone has their own unique stories…We don’t want to restrict anyone to only talk about [their own] work. It’s how your life has shaped your work,” Raghavan said. “We’ll get to see more talks that are catered toward inspiring stories that I think we all can reflect on and share as internationals,” Raghavan said.

Efforts to host this event were bolstered by VIRAL’s faculty advisors, Vivian Gama, associate dean for equity and inclusive mentoring and associate professor of cell and developmental biology, and Marija Žanić, associate professor of cell and developmental biology as well as biochemistry.

As international scholars themselves, Gama and Žanić can relate to international trainees’ experiences and want to support VIRAL’s commitment to making Vanderbilt a more inclusive and sensitive environment for international trainees.

“Many VIRAL members have devoted their time and talent to make these events a success,” Gama and Žanić said. “As faculty advisors, we are very proud and honored to help support VIRAL.” The duo helps VIRAL officers in many ways, including securing funding for the events.

There are sure to be even more enriching discussions at the April symposium, all with international research and stories at the forefront. “I commend every researcher out there who is trying to push the limits of knowledge, but it takes a lot to also cross borders and do that,” Raghavan said. “Having them feel included is going to enrich the symposium even further.”