Sun, Sea and Statistical Learning

Heather Turnbull, Psychology, University of Liverpool (2020 cohort).

The return of the Interdisciplinary Advances in Statistical Learning (IASL) conference not only was the first post-pandemic but also the first I attended as a PhD candidate. The fact it was held in the elegant seaside resort of San Sebastián on Spain’s northern coast and that the NWSSDTP Research Training Support Grant covered travel costs was an added bonus.

Over three days, this conference brings together researchers investigating statistical learning in many domains including language, music, vision, and audition. Each day began with a keynote lecture followed by oral presentation sessions organised by topic. I attended the sessions which were most relevant to my area of research, which was great advice to really make the most of the conference. I attended talks on language development and memory and it was really inspiring to hear what other researchers in these areas had been investigating. It was also an opportunity to reconnect with different aspects of statistical learning in language acquisition, as some topics can be overlooked as I focus on my PhD. The conference, the speakers and attendees also served as motivation for future work and, as a setting, having a post-lunch walk on the beach to digest all the information, wasn’t all that bad either!

I had been accepted to present findings from my MSc in the form of a poster accompanied by a two-minute “poster blitz” oral presentation in the main conference room, scheduled in the afternoon of the second day. The preparation for the poster had been an anxious few months of many different versions, run-throughs and concern about getting it ‘right.’ On the morning of the presentation, nerves kicked in but when the time came to actually present, the two minutes flew by and I was even left wondering if I had included everything I wanted to!

The poster session was almost two hours of discussion and receiving feedback on my poster. This was extremely positive and constructive, giving me a confidence boost in the interest surrounding my work and also my presentation skills. During this time, I was able to make contacts with other PhD students and early career researchers, as well as being able to talk to some important figures in statistical learning. This was without a doubt one of the biggest benefits as after the conference I have contacted these researchers to further discuss ideas. After the poster session I was exhausted, but elated. Post presentation, the beach and incredible eateries of San Sebastián came to the rescue in decompressing, taking in all the comments, and celebrating the success of my first conference.

Overall, the whole experience was extremely positive. I have returned to Liverpool with more confidence in my work and my presentation skills, new contacts, a renewed appetite not only to deepen the research in my chosen area but also for more of that fantastic tapas. When’s the next conference?

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