The Human Brain Project (HBP) held its annual student conference on 1-5 February 2021. Because of the pandemic, the 5th HBP student conference was to be held online. Each day consisted of keynotes, workshops, student sessions, and networking sessions such as pub quiz, poster session, and science bazaar.
Unlike last year, the conference was not taking place in a cultural and vibrant city in Italy, where I could have experienced the excitement of a typical tourist. Instead, I attended from the comfort of my own home. Interestingly, this did not make the event any less engaging. The online event made it easier for more students to access and take part. This allowed me to talk to, and relate with, a lot of other interns and PhD students and talk about their experiences in the HBP, so far.
Among the intriguing sessions, as a Responsible AI intern, I was most excited for the Ethics, Responsible Research and Innovation, and Dual Use. This session made me aware of the importance of considering stakeholders and incorporating the stakeholder perspective into research, the importance of aligning research and innovation to the needs and expectations of society, and the social responsibility we all have to improve the quality of life of Europeans. However, identifying stakeholders was easy compared to identifying how the findings of the research paper I am contributing to could be misused. I struggled initially. and realised that other attendees were struggling too, as they mentioned how the concept of misuse was new to them.
Throughout my internship (that started in October 2020), all my interactions have been online, so I haven’t felt like I was a part of the HBP. Coming across other students and relating to their experiences made me feel like I was a part of the project. I got to learn more about EBRAINS, the infrastructure that will be the final product of the HBP. I saw how much is invested into it and how the different research and studies from all kinds of disciplines are helping to develop it. For the first time, I felt the community aspect of the HBP and felt that I was part of a much bigger team.
On the last day of the conference, I felt both grateful and sad as the conference was coming to an end. I feel that a lot of it is to do with the isolation and loneliness this pandemic has brought. This conference was probably the most interactive event I have been to since I started my internship. It was also sad and surprising to hear that the Human Brain Project is finally coming to an end. But I was impressed by the positivity and determination from other students about how the HBP will help to inspire future projects for young researchers and scientists to collaborate across Europe.
This conference was the highlight of my internship. The thought-provoking and interesting conversations I had with PhD students have made me consider doing a PhD, as well. That was something I had no interest in before the conference. It was inspiring to listen to their creative projects and the freedom they have in research. This conference has allowed me to explore diverse scientific research, and connect with researchers and scientists whom I would have never met otherwise. I would urge all future interns and PhD students to not miss out on the next conference.
Aini Aden is a third-year psychology student at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, UK. From October 2020 until March 2021 she works with the HBP team at DMU within the framework of DMU Frontrunner in Responsible AI internship.