Pt II: Retrospective & Going Forward

This is the second of four blog posts in which the CAMBAM student chapter’s organizers—Morgan, Fred, Lennart, and Thomas—are reflecting on the chapter’s activities over the course of the past year. Enjoy!

My name is Thomas Quail and I’m a graduate student in the department of physiology at McGill University. I study the dynamics of cardiac arrhythmias with Profs. Leon Glass and Alvin Shrier, and, in my free time, I drink beer at Mile End dive bars and play viola in a classical string quartet. I’ve been one of the organizers of the CAMBAM student chapter since its inception in March 2011.

If you’re reading this and you’re not my mom, you may be wondering: what exactly is the CAMBAM student chapter? What purpose does it serve? Is it simply a sophisticated Turing-like machine developed by Michael Mackey? These are all good questions. I’ll try to answer as many as I can.

Edmund Burke once said: “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” This quote, I suppose, is related to wars and such, but it was the first history-related quote that came up on google, so I used it. Anyways, here’s the Coles-notes, 10-minutes-till-the-exam version of the CAMBAM student chapter history. In early 2011, Lennart Hilbert, a PhD physiology student, and I met with Prof. Michael Mackey, CAMBAM’s founder and former director. At that meeting, Mackey charged us with a task: “improve the communication between CAMBAM’s respective research groups.” We’re both card-carrying members of Generation Y, so we did the typical: we created a Facebook group with a nerdy avatar (it’s a Lorenz attractor) and we set up a blog to improve external exposure.

Lennart’s a great guy and I’m an Aries so, naturally, we got/get along well. And over the course of a month or so, while we met to discuss the new Facebook page and the blog, we realized that we agreed on a few things. First, scientific seminars can be very boring. Second, students are attracted to interesting problems. Third, professors intimidate students. Four, CAMBAM students should talk to each other and it’s inexcusable that they don’t. Five, students should present work in progress. Six, we should do something about all this.

So we did stuff. Since March 2011, we’ve hosted over 15 challenge seminars, methods seminars, and longer-form full-day workshops.

(Shameless plug/pop-up ad: we always need student presenters. Logical follow-up question: what’s the difference between a challenge seminar and a methods seminar? Challenge seminar: student presents work in progress and other students talk about it. Methods seminar: student presents an interesting technical/mathematical/computational tool and other students talk about it.)

The seminars and full-day workshops have been met with a considerable amount of success. The atmosphere is relaxed and collegial. Most importantly, however, stimulating problems are presented and debated fiercely.

So where does that leave you? Join us! Seriously! The CAMBAM student chapter’s last meeting was at Helm on Rue Bernard—it was really fun—the more the merrier! Alternatively, if you have a good idea, get in touch with us. Or write something on the blog. Or join us on Facebook.

This short essay wasn’t really an essay—and it likely didn’t answer any of your questions about the CAMBAM student chapter, but I’ll leave you with something: the CAMBAM student chapter is composed of a few students who like science and enjoy organizing events in which they get to learn new science. If that appeals to you, send us an email or come to an event!


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