Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Severe Post-Congress Shock displays different symptoms in young and senior researchers

Venue McFarland and Ke Liu
Hospital for Congress-Induced Neurodegenerative Diseases. Toronto Conference Center, Canada.

Attending to scientific congresses, workshops, conferences and meetings usually provokes in delegates severe neurological disorders that become manifest a posteriori. These include bipolar behavior, poor cognition, loss of concentration and awareness, and general mental collapse. The overall syndrome is known as Post-Congress Shock (PCS). Although it is well known that PCS is rather common in attendees to Molecular Biology congresses, few serious studies have been made to define the critical parameters that characterize the disease and/or its prevalence. Here we present a study on the timing and severity of appearance of PCS-related symptoms in fifty ambulatory patients that attended to a particular meeting on Genetics, Molecular Biology and Genomics. In order to correlate the progress of the disease to the stage of the patient’s career and the consumption of alcohol during the meeting, we chose thirty graduate students or postdocs (hereafter referred as ‘young researchers’) and twenty senior scientists (hereafter referred as ‘principal investigators’ or PIs). Furthermore, we divided the PI population into compulsive alcohol consumers during the meeting (over eight pints of beer or six spirituous drinks per day) and non-drinkers (below that threshold). Unfortunately, a non-drinker young researcher cohort could not be recruited because of lack of volunteers. To evaluate the performance of young researchers suffering PCS, the wrong-tip test (WTT) was performed. This test consists in checking the times that students try to insert the wrong tips to automatic pipettes (e. g., yellow tips to the P1000 pipette or blue tips to a P100). Over a control population (n=10) that had not attended the congress, delegates failed to get the right tip in the WTT 10 times more frequently the first day after the congress, and it took 15 days for them in average to drop WTT values to levels comparable to those of the control population. A particular individual was diagnosed with chronic PCS, because three months after the beginning of the study he maintained a 20x WTT failure rate. He was kept out of the study to avoid bias, because he claimed to have felt sexual attraction towards a Swedish female delegate during the congress. PIs were followed for three months after-meeting, and their scientific performance was quantitatively evaluated by the keyboard hit index (KHI). The index is measured by introducing a counter in their personal computers that scores the times that keys in their computer keyboards are hit per day. KHI figures dramatically rose immediately after the meeting in non-drinkers. We call this stage ‘after-meeting euphoria’. Three days after the congress, KHI dropped dramatically to a point of crisis. Often, at this stage, many keys were hit at a time and held for hours, implying that the PI had fallen asleep on the keyboard. From that point on, there was a gradual recovery of KHI to control levels. Interestingly, PI drinkers showed only modest changes in their KHI as compared to non-drinkers.

Our study brings the important conclusion that failure to get drunk in the meetings does not affect the overall scientific performance of senior researchers, but rather triggers an early frustrated-hangover response. On the other hand, our results indicate that young researchers develop an acute and strong form of PCS syndrome in response to alcohol consumption at meetings, which may lead to an intolerable wasting of laboratory consumables at the short term and to poor scientific yields during the rest of their career.

No comments:

Post a Comment