Two years later the AIMS Meeting returns to face-to-face format
Before entering the Medical Degree, Raquel read the book “Do no Harm” by British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. Accepting the wounds we carry is perhaps the great message that even today the experienced person, serene and wise, carries and makes others feel. Perhaps Henry Marsh inspired Raquel Barata to choose Medicine to, who knows, one day follow in his footsteps. What neither Henry nor Raquel knew is that thanks to this book, read early, both would join in the future in a congress called AIMS Meeting 2022, of which Raquel is not only a part, but also one of those responsible for bringing the doctor to Portugal, to the largest Biomedicine congress in Europe, organized exclusively by students.
This is one of the stories we can tell from the AIMS Meeting in this 13th Edition.
Following two atypical years when the congress stopped receiving big names in Science in the Aula Magna of the University of Lisbon, Joana de Pona Ferreira can hardly believe that something is finally starting to return to what it always was - an international event full of irreplaceable names of Science. The general coordinator of the 2022 edition was part of the team in the past, at the time with functions linked to the scientific department. This year, the challenge will be even greater, not only because of the place she has proposed herself, but because she knows that along the way she will not be able to defraud those who are now her two audiences, who will hear about Biomedicine in person and who will connect remotely, online. This is the part of the story that until now nobody had told.
Organized by students from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, this group comprises a team of 25 persons, in addition to the over 40 that make up the Task Force on the day of the events. The AIMS Meeting has become an international guide for students, leading the national press to always report on the last Nobel Prize winner who comes to visit Portugal, thanks to the so-called congress. About him there are many parallel lines to follow, always enveloped in a spirit of some emotion, like a child who sees his great dream come true.
Still, the AIMS Meeting is not just about dreams materializing. This congress, which opens doors to the world, has already created unexpected friendships, such as that of a student from India who came to Portugal under the Homestay project, which encourages Portuguese students to give up space in their homes to accommodate international students. This solidary initiative resulted in a strong friendship that once again brings this student from India to be with her Portuguese friend.
I found Joanas, Diogo, Catarina, João, Felipe and Raquel in the Students Association meeting room. Five minutes late, I sighed with relief at the entrance of the AEFML, there was no one. I was wrong, they were all waiting for me at a time hey gave up lunch to be able to talk to me about AIMS.
A demanding team par excellence and with a high level of objectives, over the years they have always maintained the coherence of ambition in proportion to quality. It is the materialization of their own dreams intrinsic to them, I thought as I listened to them. If I had any doubts about the matter they are made of, Joana Ferreira soon made it clear. “First we decided that it will be bigger and better than the previous edition and then we evaluated how we are going to do it”.
It's December and for the first time we gather in person the coordinators of the AIMS Meeting team. After the success of the November workshops and if we make a review of the agenda, we know that this team has already completed more than half of the time to complete one more edition. After the first phase, the AIMS Masterclasses, which surpassed the expectations of the team, now follows the fire test - the culmination of the event in March. Everything seems to be working out for another group of young entrepreneurs.
Felipe, who coordinates the Image and Dissemination Department, explains that at this stage the platform and the streaming to be activated are already designed. This will allow that nothing will be lost if there is a pandemic crisis,. However, technically the formula of the previous year will not be repeated. The Aula Magna will welcome 1000 participants, with the rest participating through the platform, which will expect to have a larger audience than any previous edition, as this is the first time that it is hybrid.
Whereas last year 1346 participants watched online, everything points to an increase in this edition. Each year they set a higher goal, either regarding the audience or the workshops.
In this group, all are in year 5, with the exception of João Gaio and Joana Florência, who are in year 4 of the Integrated Master Degree in Medicine.
Joana, where is AIMS now?
Joana Ferreira: This year our reality has changed. After reflecting, we realized that students in years 1, 2 and 3 never experienced an AIMS in person. The last record that this group has, and which is very different from the usual, is an entirely virtual event that went very well, but it does not reflect the usual characteristics of this congress. The impact of something virtual, compared to face-to-face, is different. For better or for worse - even the cost of this year's event worries us that it may scare away these students, who are used to a lower price such as a purely virtual edition. However, this year's event, in a hybrid format, has very high costs. We are organizing two events in one. Those who are part of the last years of the degree, years 5 and 6 students, do not question the increased costs because they know that it has always been like that.
Regarding the workshops, and based on last year's experience, we opted for the AIMS Masterclasses to keep part taking place in the remote system, although we managed to greatly increase the practical and face-to-face offer. This balance allows us to offer more content, as we do not have to limit ourselves to existing spaces. Still, we realize that there are cases where adherence is more limited. with workshops that take place remotely, because the interaction they can create is less. Now, in March, we are going to invest more in the face-to-face version, hoping that the pandemic situation will allow it. This year is marked by great uncertainty. A year ago it was relatively easy to make the decision to do a virtual event. Uncertainty makes managing the event more difficult. As I was already part of last year's team, I remember that in Aula Magna there was only our work team, some speakers and moderators and the technical team. Seeing the Aula Magna empty gave us a very strange feeling, but there was no other option due to the pandemic.
This year we want to keep the online version, so that we can ensure the presence of students who would not come otherwise. The growth of AIMS is also boosted in this way, as we allow students from other countries to attend without having to come to Portugal. In financial terms and because the event is mainly aimed at students, we are aware that not everyone is able to travel to our country and ensure flights and accommodation for a weekend.
It is curious because every year an AIMS team appears, there is always an attempt to further surpass the previous year's goal post.
Joana Ferreira: It is true. Sometimes we are even too ambitious, in the sense that we say that we want something in a certain way without immediately gauging whether it is feasible or not. This year we have the responsibility and some pressure to introduce to these first 3 years the spirit of AIMS as it always was and we hope they will be surprised with the level we have reached.
There is a double challenge here, which is a double job, to make an event with the same quality in person and online. This is new for everyone.
Joana Ferreira: We had to learn about the platform and how streaming works. Let Felipe explain it. This year, the challenge is even greater, as it is necessary to reconcile the sound inside the room with the digital one. We have to guarantee the same quality for those who will be present and for those who are at a distance. This added responsibility, of course, makes us anxious, but it also allows us to obtain more knowledge than in any other edition.
Felipe, how was last year in a new reality when everything was technical and now this transposition to both paths simultaneously?
Felipe: Last year I started more as an observer, because I had two coordinators. I only did what they instructed me to do, through the production of materials. It turns out that at the time of the Masterclasses, the two coordinators were in isolation and could not be present for the day, which forced me and my colleague, Inês Chaves, to assume the roles of coordinators for one day. It was a great experience, but stressful because we were always waiting for directions, which we were getting, but from a distance, which is not the same.
This year I'm more used to producing for the virtual format. My challenge will be to transfer some components to the face-to-face format. This year we will have to be more careful with the production of materials and not just the audio-visual side.
João coordinates Public Relations and one of his main responsibilities is to create synergies with national and international partner events, which are essentially for students. In the dynamics of these contacts, the AIMS Meeting is disseminated on a wide scale and lasting institutional ties are created.
João (Public Relations): We have already established contacts with very important partners. A very important point, which did not happen in previous years, was that we had a request from a Dutch partner who asked us for advice on how to do at its face-to-face event. This request for help came from an entity that we respect a lot and that also sees itself a lot in us. We met with several of their departments and were able to share expectations and also our frustrations. This helps us to support, but also to receive support. This year it will be very important to establish some programmes that we were unable to do last year, essentially the Homestay programme. This consists of offering accommodation to national students from other parts of the country, or international students. As last year it could not be done, as everything was digital, this year we didn't really know how the adhesion was going to be. But we had several applications from students to make their homes available to accommodate people. Right now we already have several offers. Afterwards we will contact international students so that they can come. This action will end up creating a greater dynamic between Medicine and Biomedicine students, in a relationship between countries.
João, are these partnerships between organizations truly helping each other, or are there geographic or institutional rivalries?
João (PR): No, there are not. We have several meetings with other groups of students and there is a lot of mutual help between Institutes, whether from the University or from other universities. Often in the scientific area, they publicize our events, having a lot of support due to the interest of students external to our faculty, and internal ones, of course, in participating in a renowned scientific competition such as our Research Competition. We have great relationships with Coimbra, Porto, Covilhã and there is great mutual help and sharing of joys and frustrations, which ultimately helps us to raise our own bar, as well as the general bar of scientific congresses organized by students in Portugal.
Catarina, how was your vision as a year 5 student, who in fact already knew the two realities. The one with the room full of people and the version with the room completely empty? What was it that suddenly brought you more security, now at head of a department?
Catarina (Logistics): I'm very happy that we've returned to face-to-face, because it was the format I got to know as a participant and, in the year I joined CO AIMS, it wasn't possible for us to do anything face-to-face. The logistics department handles all the aspects that the participants like, but which are not the core of the congress. We are responsible for organizing the Gala Dinner, coffee breaks, kits, AIMS Living, which are all those things that people love, but that depend on the presence. Given this reality, last year's online limited our work a lot. Anyone participating in AIMS as a spectator has no idea what is going on behind the scenes, which is why I signed up for the task force before joining the organizing committee. I wanted to feel the spirit of the event, from within. But, in fact, last year allowed us to do little in terms of logistics, we only made the kits, the online aspect of AIMS Living, and the Fundraising contacts. But even these investments were easier because there was less to spend. This year was a challenge because I had to learn to coordinate sub-departments I've never worked in.
Joana, what needs to be communicated to brands to convince them that AIMS is the right investment?
Joana Florência (Logistics): We have the great asset which are our numbers and which attest that we are the biggest congress in Europe. The fact that most brands have already associated with us in the past and have had a good experience is also an asset for wanting to continue the established partnerships. But of course we like to grow in all aspects, even in contacts, always promoting support for training in science and with those who will be the health professionals responsible for the future.
Two years ago, one of the great messages of the AIMS was sustainability. Then it was noticed that it was not linear, even in a simple gesture of recycling paper cups, the truth is that they are also coated with plastic to hold liquids.
Joana Florência (Logistics): We undoubtedly have this concern, but we have also realized that growing as an event becomes more difficult when we commit to this ecological aspect, because there is an imbalance between what is excessive and what most appeals to our audience, with the notion of what pollutes the most and our social responsibility. In this balance, our commitment to this aspect of social responsibility goes hand in hand with awareness, always accompanied by an effort to reduce the waste inherent in a congress.
In the Masterclasses, for example, which took place in November, we were again concerned with combating waste after the coffee break. In other words, never being able to specify quantities that may be necessary for the number of participants we have, there is always a surplus. All was left was offered to Refood in Alvalade, who came to collect not only food, but also things from the participant kits. We gave everything, we didn't keep anything. There is a perspective that has changed in my mind regarding the notion of coffee break quantities. While it's good to see the variety and offer, on the other hand it's hard to see what's left. What is visually appealing to the eye, in terms of leftovers, is uncomfortable. So getting everything out is good to see.
Last to talk, but not least important, we have the scientific coordination team.
Diogo, Is it possible that when someone applies for the AIMS, what they really want is to choose the speakers and therefore integrate the scientific coordination team?
Diogo (scientific coordination team): I also thought that, until I joined the project. We selected the candidates for the Organizing Committee and, strangely, that was not what happened, which is quite curious. We received applications from people with different skills and backgrounds, but who did not really want the scientific coordination. They brought along very refined skills to other departments and chose accordingly.
What fascinated you to embrace this function?
Diogo: Science. It's something that interests me a lot. The work of this department is very much in line with my liking of science. Then, the contact with great internationally renowned speakers, the organization of workshops and scientific competitions. All of this suddenly becomes very motivating.
Is it a privilege, or sometimes a disappointment, when there is contact with these people?
Diogo: Both. It is undoubtedly a privilege when they say “yes” and a disillusionment if they say “no”. Much goes through the management of expectations. It is therefore very important to never take your feet off the ground and realize that we are talking to very influential people in their area and we are just “students at a Faculty in Portugal” and are trying to bring out the best of the best. We are challenging these people to come to AIMS without any return.
When these guests come, do you try to have the lowest possible cost?
Raquel (Scientific coordination): Yes, we try to make it so. But there are cases when they offer to pay for their own flight and travel costs.
Diogo: The aim of the AIMS speaker is that he also has the objective of coming because he believes he has something important to convey to students. What makes us proud is when someone, who comes to communicate great achievements about Science, does not charge anything, or almost nothing, to come and say what he knows.
They ask for a stipend, is that it?
Diogo: Some do, yes.
I try to put myself in your shoes and imagine when I admire someone who writes, or who has done some commendable feat, and then there is contact with the real person. What does your experience tell you, is it more a disillusionment, or the confirmation that person exists as you created them?
Diogo: This whole process is a gamble. We always review all the speakers we invite, watch videos, news, read articles and analyse. And we are aware that we can never be sure who we are going to invite. It's happened that you invite someone with a goal and that person goes to the congress to talk about something completely different and unexpected. So what we should keep in mind is that, until the moment the speaker takes the stage (and even after), there can always be a surprise.
How is this choice of themes and of the people who head each thematic area made?
Raquel: Initially, we make a list of those who are our priorities for the Keynote Lectures, which we try to be as much renown as possible, but always associated with an inspirational aspect. We want the audience to feel moved and inspired, to feel affinity through the talk. As for the thematic modules, there is a different theme for each day and then the scientific department organizes a small discussion and brings ideas to be debated among all the departments, and the final consensus is not always easy. After this choice, a great deal of research work is done on each name.
And is your team doing this research work?
Raquel: Yes. It is up to us to convince the speakers to believe in the best reasons to come here and speak, which are generally related to the influence they will exert on what will be the future generation of health professionals and researchers.
Is this the big message from AIMS? A new perspective and inspiration?
Joana Ferreira: For me. the great impact was having made me feel that, through Science, I can make a difference. I watched the 10th Edition of the AIMS feeling very moved, with the feeling that I too could change something in the world. At the time, I didn't want to believe that I was there and that AIMS was an event organized by students from the same faculty as me. Today, in my year 3 in organizing this event, I feel like an agent of change, albeit on a small scale. That's what I would like people to feel when they attend the next AIMS.
Joana Florência: It will not be so much to change perspective, but to contribute to a common path towards a future that is ours. AIMS is the world of opportunity.
Catarina, for you, what is the great message of AIMS?
Catarina: The AIMS Meeting is a combination of all the skills that we, as medical students, but not only! This congress is much more than that. It is our contribution as people, not only those who are studying Medicine, but who in 10 years' time may need to take on very different roles. We want to inspire others. The message of AIMS is to dream without letting anything shake us.
Diogo: Above all, AIMS is one of the most immersive experiences and, as such, one of the most inspiring. It touches people. It is the close contact between Science and the participants.
João: In addition to the learning and contact part, I want, at the end of this weekend in March, that people feel motivated and know that one day they can be one of the speakers on the stage, or one of the trainers of the future. That they feel that Science is close to them. We want that, being a participant in the US or Indonesia, they feel that everyone has the possibility of having the same stage. This union is very important.
Felipe: AIMS is the perfect blend of inspiration and science. When we hear them share the steps they took to reach the Nobel Prize, or even to make a certain discovery. This is turning the dream into something materializable.
Raquel: The big message here is that we can be a little bit of everything. There can often be a certain lack of motivation during the Faculty years, as we understand that year after year there is always some repetition. During the days of the AIMS Meeting, those speakers show us that they were once like us. We feel that we too are capable. Sometimes participants go so far as to want to apply to the organizing committee to try to bring in someone they admire. And it's possible, because it was one of my motivations and neurosurgeon Henry Marsh was the first to accept an invitation for this event.
Leave your great business card for this congress here.
Catarina: We're back!!
Joana P: And you don't even know what awaits you! Join us on 10-13 March 2022, to help us make the AIMS Meeting a bigger and better event!
Have more information about this Congress on the official website!