The Spotlight Session: a platform for early career scientists

What is the Spotlight Session?

Our annual conferences are a space for researchers across the scientific community, whether they have decades of experience or have recently started in their field of research. The Spotlight Session was introduced to our conference agenda in 2018, to provide a main-stage platform for early-career scientists using nanopore sequencing. Here, we'll go through how it works, tips from previous Spotlight Session speakers, and how you can apply for the Spotlight Session at London Calling 2020.

How does it work?

If you're an early career researcher, tell us how sequencing is changing your field of research for the chance to present on the plenary stage at NCM – travel, accommodation & ticket covered.

In short

Three speakers are invited to present in the Spotlight Session. First, each speaker presents a two-minute pitch on the main plenary stage, providing a sneak peek for their full talk. After this, delegates are invited to vote for their favourite pitch. Straight after the winner of the vote is revealed, the winning speaker presents their full talk on the main plenary stage. The two runner-up speakers will present their talks in a session later that day, so that everyone will have the chance to see the full presentations.

The pitches

Here, you have two minutes to show the delegates exactly why they should vote to see your full talk on the plenary stage, with a teaser of the exciting work you’ll be presenting. As our conferences bring together a wide range of research areas, it’s important to keep your pitch (and your full talk) broad, to ensure anyone can follow the science you’re presenting. Previous pitches have featured a theft in Hobbiton, why MinION is like a mobile phone, and even a poem about Bordetella pertussis.

The voting

After the pitches, delegates have 60 seconds to vote for the talk they’d like to see on the plenary stage, via an app. When the votes are in, the winner is revealed and invited to deliver their full talk.

The full talks

All three Spotlight Session participants deliver their full talks at the conference: the winning talk is delivered on the plenary stage, and the runner-up talks will take place in the Spotlight Runners-Up session later that day. The full talks are 10 minutes long, plus 5 minutes for questions from the audience, and in previous years have featured a wide range of exciting projects using nanopore sequencing – from how nanopore sequencing is changing neuropsychiatric research to how it’s enabled the identification of a parasite from a cow’s ear.

What happens after the talks?

All the Spotlight Session talks are filmed and will be available online, so that your work can be shared with other members of the Nanopore Community. The session provides a great opportunity to meet and collaborate with other researchers in your field – and it’s not just about the winning. In fact, Nanopore Community Meeting 2018 Spotlight runner-up Nicola Hall went on to deliver a plenary talk for London Calling 2019.

How can I apply?

For your application, we’d like you to record a short video answering the question “How is nanopore sequencing changing your field of research?” and telling us why you would love to present your work in the Spotlight Session. Take a look here for some example videos from our previous speakers. You can also add a written abstract to your application to provide more information on the work with nanopore sequencing you’d like to present.

Is there anything else I need to know?

If you are selected as one of our three Spotlight speakers, the cost of your ticket for London Calling 2020 will be covered by Oxford Nanopore, together with economy travel to and from the conference and three nights’ accommodation. We’ll also email you a speaker pack with lots more information on how everything works, including a step-by-step guide for what to prep before the conference, getting to and from the venue, and who to contact if you have any questions.

Ok, I’m ready! What’s next?

Apply for the London Calling 2020 Spotlight Session


Any tips?

Yes! We asked three previous Spotlight Session winners for three tips on pitching:

Lewis Stevens (Nanopore Community Meeting 2019)

“You might look at the other speakers and think their science looks more interesting on paper, but that's not what matters here. What matters is giving a pitch that demonstrates that you're about to give an interesting and engaging talk. Here are my tips:

  1. Make it accessible to a (very) general audience. The audience will be composed of scientists from all sorts of fields (human genetics, ecology, evolutionary biology, etc.) and most won’t know much about what you work on. You should therefore write your pitch almost as if you’ll be presenting to the general public. Give practice talks to people who know nothing about your field. Get rid of jargon. Keep it simple.
  2. Leave the audience wanting more. It’s tempting to make the pitch a shortened version of your talk with all the results included. But, if you tell the audience everything during the pitch, why would they want to hear more? More importantly, limiting how much time you spend talking about the results gives you more time to sell the question/problem. I spent more than half my time getting the audience hooked on my question, before explaining what I did to solve it and then briefly hinting at what I found.
  3. Speak with confidence and enthusiasm. This is obviously easier said than done but remember that you’ve been selected for the spotlight session so you must be doing cool science. If you sound passionate and excited about your work, the audience will be too. A large part of pulling this off is practice - if you know your pitch like the back of your hand, you can focus less on what you’re saying and more on how you’re saying it.

Roxanne Zascavage (Nanopore Community Meeting 2018)

“This is what I would suggest from my experience:

  1. Keep it interesting. Give the audience some excitement in your topic that makes them want to hear more.
  2. Don't try to cover your whole talk in 2 minutes. This kinda goes with #1. You want to tell them why your talk is going to be fascinating to listen to rather than hitting all the key points of your talk in your pitch.
  3. As for advice and things to prepare for: the lights are going to be BRIGHT. It is surprising to see when you get up there. Finally, the last thing I can say is keep an eye on your clock!!! I practiced my presentation at least 15 times, each time it was under 10 minutes. But somehow when I was up there, I got so into it that I lost track of time, and I didn't even SEE my clock (although it was pointed out to me) until I only had 2 minutes left, even though I had 5 minutes of talking left I planned to do.”

Thomas Nieto (Nanopore Community Meeting 2018)

“It was such a pleasure to be invited to speak at the NCM in San Francisco. The meeting was an extremely inspiring experience and it was fantastic to meet people who are both experts in their field and forward thinking. The enthusiasm demonstrated for the technology and its potential application was really positive. The reception to my presentation was fantastic and unlike some other forums that I’ve presented at, the questions were challenging, insightful and helpful. Of course, to win the Spotlight Session was a huge highlight of the meeting for me and has really helped to drive my project forward. The competition in the session was excellent and they made high quality pitches and presented very well later in the day. The runners up may not have presented on the main stage, but their presentations were extremely well attended and the opportunity to pitch in the main auditorium I’m sure boosted the audience. Even the runners up have a brilliant forum to showcase their work.

For a successful pitch I would suggest:

  1. Make a slick video presentation, ideally in your target working environment, which demonstrates both the application of technology and your enthusiasm for the project.
  2. Practice, practice, practice! There’s not much time to pitch, so you want to get it right.
  3. Be positive and excited about your project. Show the audience that you’re really invested in it. The audience will want you to do well and are genuinely very interested to hear what you have to say.”