CEHG16 Event Report

The Fourth Annual CEHG Symposium (aka CEHG16) was held on February 29th and March 1st in Paul Brest Hall on Stanford campus. With 260 people registered on Eventbrite and 220 attendees, this event marked significant growth from last year’s event. That increased interest in CEHG’s annual flagship event expanded beyond Stanford’s hallowed halls to Silicon Valley’s biotech industry. Representatives from CEHG16 partners Agena Bioscience , Etalon Diagnostics, and SAP Foundation for Health participated in the festivities and were on-hand to answer questions about their research and services.

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Etalon Dx mascots were on hand to greet CEHG16 attendees and inform us about miniature horse genomics.

Major attractions included our keynote speaker, award-winning journalist and author Christine Kenneally, our stellar line-up of guest and CEHG speakers who came from near and far to present, and Etalon’s miniature horses who grazed peacefully just outside the hall and greeted people as they drank their morning coffees and ate their delicious Munger-catered lunches. The organizers couldn’t have asked for two more beautiful days (with fog in the early mornings and sun shining the rest of the time) and the overall energy of the crowd was fun, easygoing, and appreciative. Truly, this event was a pleasure for organizers, contributors, and attendees alike. With post-event survey scores averaging 4.8 out of 5, it will undoubtedly serve as a measure for future CEHG symposia success.

The Mission

Stanford’s Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics (CEHG) is an interdisciplinary research program that is an intellectual home for 40 faculty and over 200 trainees including postdoctoral scholars and graduate students. Our biggest event of the year, the annual symposium embodies CEHG’s spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration by highlighting research from our labs and fostering interactions with the global scientific community at large.

The Organizers

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CEHG16 Organizing Committee

This mission—to enable conversations across disciplinary divides—remained at the forefront of event organizers’ minds as they planned CEHG16 and laid out the meeting agenda, which consisted of individual talks and two group panel discussions. Organizers included: Laura Dunkin-Hubby, CEHG’s Administrative Associate; Katie M. Kanagawa, CEHG’s Communications and Outreach Manager; Yang Li, Postdoctoral Scholar in the Pritchard Lab and member of CEHG16 organizing committee, and Cody Montana Sam, CEHG’s Director of Programs.

The Program

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CEHG member Fernando Mendez and other attendees chat during a break.

Feedback from CEHG15 had indicated the importance of carving out more social networking time between, and within, talk sessions, so organizers worked closely with CEHG’s Directors and Executive Committee to design a program with plenty of coffee breaks and networking opportunities (including the reception and poster session at the end of day one and the presenter dinner at the end of day two).

Organizers and Executive Committee members also collaborated on inviting potential speakers whose research spans computational, evolutionary and human genomics and who come from diverse fields such as medicine, genetics, biology, data science, marine science, bioengineering, population studies, computer science, statistics, and the humanities.

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CEHG16 Keynote Speaker and award-winning journalist, Christine Kenneally

No one embodied CEHG16’s interdisciplinary mission more fully than our keynote speaker, Christine Kenneally. As the judges of the 2015 Stella Prize said about her 2014 book, The Invisible History of the Human Race (which was also the subject of her keynote presentation):

The sciences and the humanities are traditionally thought of as separate, or even as opposite, fields of study and endeavour, but Christine Kenneally moves on from this kind of thinking in her fascinating exploration of DNA and what it tells us about our individual, social, and anthropological pasts, bringing genetics and history together via the concepts of ancestry and inheritance. At every stage of this book, the data, the facts and the ideas are illustrated and enlivened by personal stories of individual lives and discoveries [christinekenneally.com].

Audience members were fascinated by Kenneally’s literary approach to genetic history and science and they left the symposium curious about work that can be produced at the intersections of the humanities and the sciences. For CEHG’s in-depth pre-event interview with Dr. Kenneally, check out our blog.

The program (which can be downloaded from the Program page on our event website) was divided into six sessions over two days. In order to encourage conversation and (potentially) new research partnerships between CEHG community members and guest scholars, each session was carefully composed of 4-5 CEHG and guest faculty and CEHG trainee presenters. Attendees expressed their admiration of the speaker list, stating that they had never before attended a conference where they were simply not able to leave between sessions because every talk was unmissable.

Guest (non-CEHG) speakers included Michael Eisen (UC Berkeley), Yaniv Erlich (Columbia University), Ryan Haasl (UW Platteville), Mattias Jakobsson (Uppsala University, Sweden), Nicolas Katsanis (Duke University), Nicole King (UC Berkeley), Rasmus Nielsen (UC Berkeley), John Novembre (University of Chicago), Dana Pe’er (Columbia University), Molly Pzreworski (Columbia University), Uma Ramakrishnan (National Centre for Biological Sciences, India), and Tandy Warnow (University of Illinois).

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Academia Panelists John Novembre, Tandy Warnow, and Martin Blaser

As mentioned briefly before, the organizers also decided to do something different at this year’s event and organize two discussion panels that would initiate conversation between scholars working in different STEM fields. One panel focused on “Building a Career in Academia” and the other on “Opportunities and Challenges Starting a Genomics Company.” These panels also turned out to be popular attractions, and trainees particularly expressed appreciation for the relevant profession-based advice panelists offered on pursuing careers in academia and industry. For a full listing of our speakers, abstracts, and brief bios, visit our event website and check out the Speakers page).

The Venue

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CEHG16 in Paul Brest Hall

Post-event feedback from the 2015 CEHG Symposium indicated high satisfaction with Paul Brest Hall in Stanford’s Munger Complex, so organizers decided to hold CEHG16 at the same location. And once again, post-event feedback indicates that attendees felt very much at home in the hall, which comfortably seats 200 with long tables (as you see in the picture above).

As with CEHG15, Munger staff were also on-hand to provide logistical support as CEHG16 organizers set up, transitioned between presentations and breaks or networking events, and broke down the stage at event’s end. The venue also features a large patio area just outside the hall, so attendees have a chance to enjoy the California sun and the beauty of Stanford campus during recesses. CEHG organizers would certainly recommend the venue and the Munger staff to other conference organizers planning events on Stanford campus.

Social Media

A team of volunteer designated tweeters covered both days of the event and shared highlights from each individual talk and panel discussion, as well as their thoughts on the event in general. Click here to see a curated list of all #CEHG16 tweets and catch up on event highlights and talk takeaways!

The Workshop

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Peter Carbonetto (left) discusses AncestryDNA software with workshop attendees.

CEHG16 talks ended on Tuesday, March 1st, but the event wouldn’t have been complete without the AncestryDNA-hosted “Genomics at Scale” workshop, held the morning of Wednesday, March 2nd and facilitated by Senior Staff Scientist Peter Carbonetto and Senior Genomics Data Scientist Amir Kermany. Twenty CEHG trainees attended and practiced using Ancestry’s new big data analytical methods and tools. Check out our workshop photo album on Flickr.

Special Thanks

CEHG16 organizers would like to express our heartfelt appreciation for the volunteers who made this event happen. CEHG16 took a community of 20 volunteers to pull off, including everyone from registration table operators, mic runners in the hall, volunteer emcees who introduced our esteemed speakers and kept the event running smoothly, timekeepers, designated tweeters, and other day-of volunteers. We are eternally grateful for the dedication and loving care demonstrated by our dedicated CEHG trainees and the annual symposium has a way of bringing out the best in all of us.

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Guest speaker Uma Ramakrishnan

Also, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the valiant (and successful!) efforts of our event photographer, Saul Bromberger, to capture the day’s very special, joyful quality. Aside from the workshop image and the program download shot, the photos featured throughout this report were produced by Saul. We absolutely recommend Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography to anyone who is organizing events on Stanford campus or in the Bay Area. He was a pleasure to work with: gentle, kind, unobtrusive, creative, and capable. For access to our “Best of CEHG16” photo gallery, visit CEHG’s Flickr albums page.

Want to read more about CEHG? 

If you would like to learn more about CEHG’s mission, faculty, blog, and programs, explore our Center website and, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us at stanfordcehg@stanford.edu.

Can’t get enough of our CEHG16 talks or did you have to miss our event? Please note: videos of select CEHG16 talks, recorded and curated by Stanford Video, will be made available on Stanford’s popular youtube channel as soon as possible. Check the CEHG website regularly for links as they become available.

 

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