I am pleased to write this report on the full-day, free, and interactive Public Conference on Genetics that we organized in the St. John’s campus of Memorial University.
This Conference was held between 9am – 4pm on February 29th, 2020 at the Faculty of Medicine Building.
We estimate the number of participants as 75 - 80. Interactions during the Conference as well as the feedback we received during and after this Conference indicate that this has been a highly successful, informative, and engaging public event.
The Conference focused on describing basic genetics, giving examples of genetic research conducted in the province, providing information about medical management of families affected by genetic diseases, and discussing the cons and pros of genetic testing and genetic data, including privacy and insurance related issues. In addition to talks, we had two Q & A sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – to directly engage with and address the questions of the participants. Please see https://www.mun.ca/publicengagement/engagememorial/genetics2020.php for further details.
To increase accessibility and to reach other parts of the province, we also live-tweeted the Conference (please see https://twitter.com/MUNMed/status/1233810008023949314).
Community involvement and public engagement were at the heart of this Conference. We have consulted, involved, and worked with community members at every step of this Conference.
• I have consulted ~15 community members on how to best organize and deliver this Conference, including the topics they would like to hear about
• we have had two community members as patient speakers at the Conference
• we have had a large number of community members as participants during the Conference
Overall, I am happy to say that our community members collectively shaped this Conference according to their information needs and curiosity.
This is why, I sincerely believe this event was a great example of how MUN’s public engagement efforts help empower and serve our community.
There are many people who significantly contributed to this event, without whom this Conference could not be possible. Sadly, I cannot name everyone due to space limitations, but notable examples include:
• All conference participants; without you and your interest, this Conference could not turn into this successful, informative, and interactive knowledge-exchange event with vibrant discussions. Thanks for coming and not being shy when you have something to say or ask.
• Our community partner Ms. Gemma Giovannini and 14 other community members; you generously provided your opinion about how to best organize this conference, what topics to cover, and how to make this Conference useful for the general public members. Your opinions were crucial in shaping the Conference and the talks by the experts.
• Our two patient speakers; you were at the heart of our Conference and I cannot thank you enough. It was an important and brave act to share your stories to help, educate, and inform others. From the feedback we got so far from the Conference participants, your stories were among the most remarkable parts of the event.
• Conference organizing committee members and experts as speakers consisting of researchers, clinicians, genetic counsellors, and privacy experts from Faculty of Medicine, Eastern Health, and the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC); thanks for all you have done.
The organizing committee members/speakers are as follows:
Dr. Sevtap Savas (Chair & Moderator)
Dr. Lesley Turner
Dr. Jane Green
Dr. Bridget Fernandez
Dr. Kathy Hodgkinson
Dr. Terry Lynn-Young
Dr. Daryl Pullman
• Dr. Margaret Steele, Dean of Medicine; I sincerely thank you for sponsoring and supporting this Conference, delivering the Opening remarks, and participating in the Conference. It was a tremendous pleasure and honour to have you with us.
I gratefully acknowledge and thank The Office of Public Engagement, Memorial University, which awarded the Quick Start Fund For Public Engagement for our proposal “A public symposium on Genetics, Genetic Research, and what they may mean for the people of NL” (funded in May 2019). Together with generous additional funds and support provided by Discipline of Genetics (Chair: Dr. Bridget Fernandez), Dean Margaret Steele (Dean of Faculty of Medicine) and other units at Memorial University, this award was essential in organizing and delivering this public Conference.
We are excited by the success of this Conference and general public’s interest in future Conferences on Genetics. Our vision is to organize such public events on Genetics in NL regularly, pending future funding. We are always looking for better ways to connect and engage with our community – please feel free to drop a line to me at @firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sevtap Savas, PhD. Associate professor, Discipline of Genetics, MUN.