It’s difficult to quantify what you get from a conference, but I’ll give this one a go. I’ve just returned from a very blustery Chicago, where I was attending the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) conference. This is the second time I’ve attended SRNT and I left the conference feeling just as invigorated as the first time I went (albeit also just as jetlagged).
For a tobacco researcher, SRNT is the event. The first year I went, I was blown away by not only the breadth of research being conducted, but also by the passion exhibited by the presenters. It’s one of those conferences where you immediately feel part of a community, and are reassured your research is having an impact beyond your own team. I’m part of the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group – we spend our time reviewing evidence on interventions to combat tobacco addiction - and my mood was bolstered by the number of references to our work over the course of the conference.
The first year I went to SRNT, I was presenting as part of a symposium on our reviews. This year, things were a bit more nebulous, which I was apprehensive about. In fact, the decision to go was only made once I learned about the Returning Carers’ Fund at our university, which is a small grants scheme to support the return to research of people who have taken a break for caring responsibilities. I had my first child a year ago, so I fit this bill. Our group didn’t have funds to send me, so I was particularly delighted to have my application approved. The grant is supposed to address a “clearly identified barrier to return to research.” Originally I was slightly nervous as to whether my attendance at a conference would count as such, but on reflection, it really did – I just hadn’t noticed the barriers were there in the first place.
There are too many highlights from the conference to list, but they definitely include scheduled and impromptu meetings with existing and potential new collaborators, including someone I’d always wanted to meet (having read many of his books with much admiration) and had never had the opportunity to speak to before. It was also fascinating to see all of the new research on e-cigarettes (see the abstract book for more details) – particularly so because I’ll be updating our Cochrane review of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation over the next couple of months. Another highlight was seeing the first results from the EAGLES trial – the largest study to date of smoking cessation medications. We were really pleased when one of the presenters highlighted how closely the findings map onto our group’s network meta-analysis of smoking cessation pharmacotherapies, and were keen audience members. In fact, my colleague Nicola and I were sat in the front row, frantically scribbling notes and taking screen shots to inform the forthcoming update of our review of nicotine receptor partial agonists (we were particularly interested in the safety data on varenicline - which incidentally were reassuring for anyone thinking about taking this drug).
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve returned with a renewed vigour for the work of our group. This year is the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group’s 20th anniversary, and to mark it we are conducting a priority setting exercise. Speaking to people about this project, and seeing our reviews put to such good use, will help push me through this year’s to do list. I hope the Returning Carers’ Fund is around for years to come so that others can benefit like I did.