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 2021.

How does it work?

If you're an early-career researcher, we’d love you to tell us how sequencing is changing your field of research for the chance to present in the Spotlight Session at London Calling 2021. Before 2020, this meant presenting on the main stage at the conference. This year, like in 2020, we’ve gone virtual, and Spotlight presenters will take to the virtual stage in the ‘Plenary’ track of the online conference.

In short

Three speakers are invited to present in the Spotlight Session. First, each speaker presents a two-minute pitch video, providing a sneak peek for their full talk. After this, delegates are invited to vote for their favourite pitch via the online conference platform. 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 in the conference, so that everyone will have the chance to see the full presentations.

The pitches

Here, you have the chance to tell delegates exactly why they should vote to see your full talk on the virtual plenary stage, in the form of a two-minute video. Your pitch video acts as sort of trailer for the exciting work you’ll be presenting, with previous speaker’s pitches featuring everything from a theft in Hobbiton to a poem about Bordetella pertussis. At last year’s Nanopore Community Meeting, Spotlight Session winner Karlijn Doorenspleet shared a video pitch right next to the focus of her talk: the North Sea.

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 that anyone can follow the science you’re presenting.

The voting

After the pitches, delegates have 60 seconds to vote for the talk they’d like to see in the plenary track, via the online conference platform. When the votes are in, the winner is revealed and their full talk is shared with the delegates.

The full talks

All three Spotlight Session participants share their full talks at the conference: the winning talk is shared straight after the winner is announced, as part of the main agenda, and the runner-up talks will take place later in the conference. 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 has enabled the identification of a parasite from a cow’s ear.

What happens after the talks?

All the Spotlight Session talks will be available online after the conference, so that your work can be shared with other members of the Nanopore Community. As we include lots of virtual networking in the London Calling agenda, 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.

Going virtual

To keep everything running smoothly on the day, both your two-minute pitch and your full presentation will be pre-recorded, then broadcast during the event. The recording process is really easy, and we’ll be on hand to help throughout. During your talk, delegates have the chance to post you questions, which you’ll then be able to answer in a Q&A session after your presentation ends. For this part of the session, we’d like you to join the conference live to answer questions and tell us more about your work. We’ll also email you a speaker pack with lots more information on how everything works, including a step-by-step guide for recording and what to expect on the day.




How can I apply?

For your application, we’d like you to send us your video pitch, 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. If you are selected to take part, this is the video pitch that will be shared at the conference. 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.

You can send us your application here:

Apply for the London Calling 2021 Spotlight Session


Any tips?

Yes! Here's some advice on pitching from previous Spotlight Session winners:

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. 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.'

Thomas Nieto (Nanopore Community Meeting 2018)

'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.'