Vanderbilt MSTP Retreat 2021
by Maggie McBride (G3)
The Vanderbilt MSTP gathered for the first time in over a year at the 2021 Annual Retreat! It was planned by the rising G3 class with a lot of help from Bryn. The day began with a virtual welcome by Director Dr. Chris Williams, followed by virtual poster sessions highlighting the work of our graduate phase students. Using gather.town, session attendees could wander from poster to poster and engage with the presenters as if they were at a real poster session. After viewing posters virtually, participants came to campus, reuniting to welcome the newest members of our program into their new colleges and to re-introduce the M2s, who were initially welcomed via Zoom last year. G1 students were welcomed to graduate school with a lab coat ceremony. Dr. Chris Williams led us in a moment of silence to observe the challenges and losses of the last year as we embrace the opportunity to be together again. The highlight of retreat for many was a virtual keynote address by the esteemed Dr. Barney Graham, Deputy Director of the NIAID Vaccine Research Center and leader of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the NIH. He was instrumental in the development of the vaccine that permitted us to gather. He gave an engaging talk that covered the history of vaccinology, the work specifically behind the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, the importance of our colleagues and to our careers, and finding our passion. Dr. Graham left us with these words of advice “[The students] seem to be concerned about the right things. Continue learning and connecting the dots. Medically trained scientists are in the best position and have the greatest potential to see the bigger scientific picture from concept to application. We don’t have enough Physician-Scientists helping to guide the world through the new array of technologies and capabilities.” Participants then chose one of two wellness breakout sessions. New program members learned about imposter syndrome from Dr. Maureen Gannon, while others learned about online scientific networking resources. Rising G3 Alex provided a great overview of both Google Scholar and Twitter, as well as a number of worthwhile tips to help students maximize the impact of their work. After a morning of science, attendees had time to socialize on the steps of the beautiful Alumni Hall, playing cornhole and card games. Colleges competed in Minute to Win it Games, letting our new members show off their talents. During dinner, senior students Abin Abraham and Lizzie Flook shared their perspective on their training path year by year. This entertaining talk reminded every class that no matter how confused you are as a M2 running around the hospital, or incompetent you feel as a graduate student with another failed PCR, if we lean on each other to figure it out, we will all be in their place soon. The G3 class was honored to plan the beginning of a year of togetherness for the Vanderbilt MSTP!