Taking stock of the AIMS Meeting – a conversation with Diogo Ferreira
The 10th Edition of the AIMS (Annual International Medical Students) Meeting, the largest European Congress of Biomedicine, organised by the Student Association of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, was held in Lisbon in March.
With a growing number of participants, the Congress that brings together a large number of national and international students featured three Nobel Prize winners. Harald zur Hausen, Nobel Prize in Medicine (2008), for the discovery of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) as a causative agent of cervical cancer, who is also in favour of vaccinating boys against HPV. Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize in Medicine (2004), for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation.
And Peter Agre, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2003), for the discovery of how salts and water are transported in and out of cells, having contributed to understanding how the kidneys recover water from primary urine and how electrical signals of nerve cells are generated and propagated.
It was held over three days, each of which focused on one of the major areas up for debate this year: "Sex and Reproduction," "Immunity" and "Five Senses."
The general coordinator of the AIMS, Diogo Ferreira is in the 5th year of the Integrated Master's Degree in Medicine. The son of a Cardiologist, he says that Medicine has always been his natural environment, although he doesn't yet know which speciality he wants to choose.
Being a good student has always made it easy for him to pursue a choice he says "he simply had to make."
It is indeed this belief that he puts into a lot of what he does, and when he wants something and believes he can achieve it, he's not afraid to face any challenges. That's why he proposed himself to the position of General Coordinator of the AIMS Meeting .
Until now Diogo had never been involved in the Student Association and although the AIMS Organising Committee is a project developed by the AEFML, the association organises a competition open to all students who wish to participate. Then the students are chosen for the Committee through a series of interviews. That's what happened with Diogo.
He describes the AIMS as a spectacular project for its size and for the number of people it gathers around it. It takes us a whole year to prepare an event like this one and make sure that everything happens in 4 days. Contacting leading experts, organising something from beginning to end, and completing every step, all this was part of a role that fit his profile. "I saw other students preparing the event and I thought that I wanted to become one of them." And he did. He joined the organisation 2 years ago, initially working in the Scientific Department, where he gave ideas for topics to be explored, as well as for the most appropriate speakers depending on the topic in question. While the 9th Edition had already been a success, becoming the largest edition until then, the 10th Edition promised to exceed all expectations. Once the 9th Edition working group had finished its job, there was a meeting of those who wanted to continue. And since its members always go from being coordinated to coordinators, Diogo felt that he should apply for the general coordination of the project. And he was elected to that position.
He closely monitored the work of all the departments, managing a team of 23 people which was only reinforced with a 37-strong Task Force during the event, involving a total of 60 students.
But before facing the decisive test, all teams had to overcome an intermediate test - the AIMS Masterclasses, which take place halfway through each term of office. If, on the one hand, they want to reach the entire universe of students at a low cost, on the other hand, it's the first real challenge of producing a major event.
Diogo told the News@fmul team about the most important steps of both events and their outcomes. But after the big event, we could not fail to hear his final views on it.
Tell me about the success of this event in numbers.
Diogo Ferreira: This congress brought together 1000 students, compared to 750 last year. As for the number of foreign students, it almost doubled, and they came from 35 different countries. Nearly 200 came from other Portuguese faculties. Some international students came to Portugal to participate in the Research Competition programme, aimed at rewarding pre-graduate research with a total prize in the amount of € 2000. Faculties pay for their participation in some cases, but most of them come to the AIMS paying the costs out of their own pockets.
During the AIMS Masterclasses, which were held in October last year, I attended part of a lecture that was taking place at the João Lobo Antunes Auditorium and there was not a single empty chair. I think I'd never seen that Auditorium as packed as it was then. How do you reach the students' motivation to make them participate so actively?
Diogo Ferreira: I think it has to do with the very purpose of the lectures and the projects that run parallel to the AIMS, as well as with the Masterclasses themselves. In other words, rather than placing the emphasis on what they are going to learn in the lectures, academically speaking, we focus on what they can gain from them. We often ask our speakers to talk about their personal life experience, rather than about what they are working on every day. We want to offer them an opportunity to hear about life stories, first-hand accounts of achievements or failures, rather than simply learning details. That allows them to see things from a different perspective and come closer to reality. We want students to feel inspired by first-hand accounts of leading figures in the area of Health, so they can also become agents of change in the future.
Since our course is very demanding and has a key theoretical component, I believe that we, as students, have a certain obligation to create events such as the AIMS so they can complement each other.
How did this event reach its international projection?
Diogo Ferreira: There is already this tradition of international congresses that reward pre-graduate research, so that part is already relatively well established. The AIMS and other similar congresses establish partnerships, we have dozens of partners, allowing good dissemination and mutual help. Curiously enough, the AIMS is the largest congress in this network.
And how many FMUL students did you have?
Diogo Ferreira: This year we had nearly 700 students from our Faculty alone. And there were nearly as many students on the waiting list. We didn't have such a long waiting list in the previous editions; we did in the last one, but it was not as long.
I suppose the line-up had a lot to do with the fact that everybody wanted to be present.
Diogo Ferreira: This year yes, for sure. For several years now, when we think about world-class speakers at the AIMS, we think about Nobel Prize winners. Last year there was a Nobel Prize winner who wasn't able to come during the congress, Professor Craig Mello. Unfortunately. Professor Harald zur Hausen fell ill and wasn't able to come, but he recorded a video lecture which was nevertheless interesting. Even so, we received Professors Peter Agre and Aaron Ciechanover.
Tell me, without false modesty, how medical students, because they're still students, manage to bring together such a group of guests and motivate them to participate?
Diogo Ferreira: I think that there are various factors involved. On the one hand, the Congress has been improving, year after year. On the other hand, this year we were already able to introduce ourselves as the largest European Congress of its kind. Then we rely on the support of the Faculty and a Scientific Committee that includes Professors who help us reach the speakers. I'll give you an example: Professor Bruno Silva Santos was a member of the Scientific Committee of the Immunity module; when we send an invitation, the Professor usually sends an email about our invitation, emphasising our interest and attesting to the quality, not only of the event but of the Faculty itself. Then I think we benefit a lot from being in a city like Lisbon because it's trendy and attracts many of our speakers. You know that the AIMS, despite contributing to travel and accommodation expenses, does not pay fees to its speakers. And they also tell us that they tend to make a strong personal effort in the case of events for students because they feel they should spend some of their time addressing those who are learning. They say students are the future of their areas. Several speakers have told us that they have a hard time saying no to these invitations precisely for this reason.
The quality of the Congress will undoubtedly increase year after year, and I believe the next edition will be even bigger and convince figures as important as these or even more important ones.
Are you going to be part of the next team?
Diogo Ferreira: No, I'm not. It's a very demanding experience and we believe that new people should join so that different things can be achieved. The Congress needs to reinvent itself year after year and it's hard to keep a clear and open mind to do everything differently in the following edition.
Then I'm going to the 6th year and I need to work on my thesis in the area of Pharmacology.
I have to study.
How will you deal with a year of some seclusion and silence after spending a year playing a leading role?
Diogo Ferreira: I've wrapped my head around the fact that the 6th year is supposed to be like that. In fact, those who get into Medical school know that there are times when they have to study really hard, and the 6th year is the time when we have to prepare ourselves for the seriation exam. It's going to be hard, but I've wrapped my head around it and I'll deal with it naturally
Diogo Ferreira comes to the end of a phase of which we will keep memories and, who knows, bear fruits in his professional future. He doesn't know which speciality he wants to choose, but he leaves out the surgical area, hoping that maybe his internships will help him find his ideal career path.
If nothing changes, he will choose exactly what he believes he must.
[su_slider source="media: 30421,30416,30418,30417,30414,30415,30419,30420" limit="25" link="image" target="blank" width="460" height="320" responsive="no" title="no" pages="no" autoplay="0" speed="5000"][su_slider source="media: 19344,19346,19396,19359,19351,19348,19356,19372,19343,19371,19373,19382,19385,19386,19388,19393,19377,19394,19401,19342,19318,19316,19315,19313,19310,19308,19306,19303,19299" limit="13" link="lightbox" width="920" height="580" responsive="no" title="no" mousewheel="no" autoplay="5300" speed="2100"][/su_slider]