Guest Author: Sokol Todi, PhD; Wayne State University
I have been attending the Ataxia Investigators Meeting for nearly a decade. I was a junior faculty at the time of my first participation. I had worked in the Ataxia field for a few years and was looking for a scientific family of which to be a part. During my graduate and postgraduate training I had attended numerous conferences and meetings — ones that consisted of over 40,000 participants as well as ones that welcomed 200 or so registrants. While each of those meetings provided me with great forums for scientific and professional development purposes, I had yet to encounter a setting where the interactions where sufficiently intimate and the scientists at the forefront of the field sufficiently welcoming to make me feel like a part of a larger group with a common goal. Additionally, and quite importantly, none of the events I had attended had time dedicated specifically to the interaction of scientists with people who were suffering from the diseases being studied.
From the first day of participating in AIM I realized that The AIM was “it” for me. It provided a highly welcoming and comfortable setting to interact with scientists at all stages of development and career; it fostered and shepherded interactions and exchanges among all participants; and it enabled us to interact with families inflicted by various types of Ataxia.
At the AIM, formalities were dispensed with and talks and posters became largely informal interactions and conversations. I recall many instances of inquisitive, and often very funny, questions and suggestions thrown at the presenter by various scientists in the middle of a presentation; the good nature of the questions asked; the thunderous laughter at a funny slide or humorous data interpretation; the passion of the participants for what the science would mean to the patients and their families; the warmth, care and dedication of the NAF staff.
At the AIM, we were all able to present our most recent scientific findings to patients and their families and we were welcomed to attend their “Birds of a Feather” events, where families suffering from the same disease get together and discussed their quotidian and medical issues. I have never felt more energized in my pursuit of therapies for various forms of Ataxia than after meeting patients, their families, and attending “BoF” events. I would return to the lab renewed energy, passion and dedication. That drive has only become stronger and stronger after each AIM.
This will be the last AIM as we know it*. I am saddened by that fact, particularly because I fear that other junior scientists who feel like I did years ago might have a harder time finding their own scientific home. But, knowing that the NAF and its staff will be involved with future version of similar endeavors provides me with some reassurance that the wonderful traditions of the AIM will not be forgotten.
*The 2021 Ataxia Investigators Meeting (AIM) will be the final meeting of the series. NAF will partner with FARA and AtaxiaUK to offer an international meeting. Learn more about the inaugural 2022 International Congress for Ataxia Research (ICAR).