Small Brains big ideas course was a big success

The course took place in Santiago, Chile from October 25fth to October 30th . The course consisted in lectures (8:20 hours), practical activities (16 hours), discussions (4:45 hours) and Open talks given by the invited and local professors in total eleven seminars were given each of 45 minutes. A detailed Program can be found in the book specially prepared that I am sending as attachment in PDF format.

We received in total 52 applications, 17 from Chile and 35 from Cuba, Colombia, Brasil, Perú, Uruguay and Argentina. We accepted 28 students, 17 from foreign countries and 11 from Chile. We were able to give travel fellowships to all foreign students to cover tickets and accomodations in Santiago. We were also able to cover all meals and transports in Santiago for national and international students.

The course brought one Professor from Argentina, Dr. M.Fernanda Ceriani (Fundación Instituo Leoir, Bueno Aires) and five Professors from University of Massachusetts Medical School at Worcester, Drs Mark Alkema, Claire Benard, Vivian Budnik, Marc Freeman and Scott Waddell. UMAss Medical School also sent two graduate students that acted as teaching assistants. All travel expenses for the international Professor were covered by the course.

From Chile, eight Professors participated, Drs Andrea Calixto and Jorge Campusano from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Dr. Rebeca Aldunate from Universidad Santo Tomás, Drs Juan Bacigalupo, Ricardo Delgado and Raúl Godoy-Herrera from Universidad de Chile as well as the Co-Organizer, Dr. John Ewer from Universidad de Valparaíso and the organizer Dr.Jimena Sierralta from Universidad de Chile.

Two social activities were organized, one in Santiago and one in Valparaíso as closing activity.

Overall we fell that the course was a great success. The students learned the theory and practice of the sophisticated approaches that can be used in C. elegans and in D. melanogaster to approach current issues in neurobiology. They met researchers from Chile, Argentina and the USA who use these model organisms for their research, and also met fellow students from all over Latin America. The latter is very important. Indeed, the Latin American neuroscience community is small and the invertebrate neurobiology group even smaller, so in our experience it is very good for students to meet their peers, as this bond will serve them well in their future training and, eventually, in their research career.

The course consisted mostly of morning classes and seminars, and afternoon labs; all lectures and most of the labs were in English. The lecture part of the course went seamlessly, and we think that it was a good coverage of topics. The labs were organized such that the 28 students broke up into groups of 4-8 students and each group then spent 2 hours doing one set (“module”) of experiments. At the end of the 2 hours period each group would break up, and each student would join a different group of 4-8 students and do a (different) second module. Modules ranged from

behavioral observations to bioinformatics, and included electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, gene inhibition by RNAi, and visualization of gene expression using gfp-tagged genes in transgenic animals. We asked that at the end of the week every student devote time to modules in each of the 2 model organisms, and bias their time to modules that used the organism with which they were least familiar.

The students and faculty developed a friendly rapport aided in part by the enthusiasm with which the faculty shared their knowledge and expertise. It was also aided by a number of social events, which helped “break the ice”. These included one wellcome party with “empanadas” and “pizza evenings” during which we asked students to tell about their research interests, current work and why they had applied to the course. We asked that they do this in English. In addition we have one discussion activity as closing for the practical part. We also got together one evening at one of the faculty’s home and spent a very nice evening (except for the rain and unseasonably cold weather!) in a pure social meeting. The closing barbecue in Valparaiso was a great success, and was an excellent way to end the course.

A survey was sent to the students as well as certificates of participation for all of them.

See pictures on the facebook site: Latinamerican Invertebrate neuroscience.