Three PSET graduate students learned about teamwork, communication, and organization while planning an annual scientific conference held at the UI College of Pharmacy.
Monday, July 1, 2024

Organizing a two-day conference for more than 100 people involving thousands of philanthropic dollars, is a tall task, especially while ensuring continuity of your PhD research.

Nonetheless, that’s exactly what three UI College of Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics (PSET) graduate students took on when they volunteered to plan and execute the 2024 Pharmaceutics Graduate Student Research (PGSRM) Meeting held at the UI College of Pharmacy last month.

Sanika Jadhav, Pornpoj (Jay) Phruttiwanichakun, and Pratishtha Verma co-chaired a group of 18 PSET graduate students comprising three different committees. 

“I am extremely proud of the planning team for this year’s PGSRM meeting. The group had less time than usual to plan the meeting, but the students, and especially the co-chairs, were able to move quickly to put together an outstanding meeting,” said 2024 conference faculty advisor Maureen Donovan, PSET professor. “The meeting was a tremendous success, and it was the perfect opportunity to show off the quality and capabilities of our students and our beautiful academic facility.”

"Scientists work best when they work as a team, which requires rapport. I have grown a lot from helping organize the event in how I engage with people from different backgrounds and personalities."
       -Pornpoj (Jay) Phruttiwanichakun, Conference Co-Chair

The event gathers researchers from various domains within the pharmaceutical sciences, focusing on drug discovery, design, delivery, and formulation. It is dedicated to fostering education and professional development across multiple facets of pharmaceutical research, including biotechnology, biopharmaceutics, pharmacokinetics, and more.

PSET Grad Student Min Xu Presents at PGSRM 2024
Min Xu presented at the conference.

Most attendees were pharmaceutics graduate students representing six universities. Thirty-three posters – including from Jonah Propp, ’24 PhD, and PSET graduate students Min Xu and Apurva Dusane – were presented along with 10 oral presentations. The committee raised more than $60,000, including funds from six pharmaceutical industry giants.

Co-Chairs Q&A
We asked the three co-chairs five questions about their planning experience, including what they learned from the process.

When did you start planning the conference and how did the three of you stay organized and work as a group?
Sanika: We began planning in June 2023. Effective communication and well-thought-out planning were two critical aspects for a well-organized event. Our meetings with College staff experts also gave us an understanding of things to keep in mind. Their suggestions and support were a driving force.

Jay: We formed a committee and met as co-chairs in person through monthly and later weekly meetings. Without our committee, the event would not have materialized. We learned to delegate tasks to people with the best skillsets for the tasks. We also used Microsoft Teams to stay organized with files and comments.

What would you say was the most monumental task and how did you handle it?
Sanika: Fundraising was the most crucial task given our estimated budget was $50,000 to break even. By the end of 2023 we had secured $30,000. Our alumni did a fantastic job in securing sponsorships. They were actively involved and made sure we received the funds. 

Alum Mahesh Krishnan speaks to PSET Professor Maureen Donovan at PGSRM 2024
UI College of Pharmacy alumnus Mahesh Krishnan (left) with Pfizer spoke with PSET Professor Maureen Donovan.

Jay: We had frequent meetings with Dr. Donovan to work on fundraising. Some of the alumni we reconnected with had been involved with planning previous PGSRM Conferences when Iowa hosted. Mahesh Krishnan, ’01 PhD, who now works at Pfizer helped us secure $15,000 – our biggest donation – from his company.

Pratishtha:  Other industry donations came from AbbVie, Eli Lilly & Company, Merck, Amgen, and AstraZeneca. We contacted our alumni from each department within a company and this strategy helped us secure funds from departments like regulatory affairs which otherwise would not have been aware of this meeting. 

How did the committee stay grounded when things became overwhelming?
Sanika: Good communication and mutual understanding. As graduate students we had deadlines in our research and PGSRM work at the same time. But we managed because we trusted each other to step up to take the lead on tasks so another could focus on research for a while. Such understanding and faith are crucial when working in teams. Our PIs were extremely accommodating. I would just work on PGSRM for an entire week and could not get anything done on my research, but (my PI) supported me during this time.

Jay:  We used spreadsheets a lot. In most cases, things started to become overwhelming when we got bogged down in the tiny details as there were many small parts in this large event. We tried to divide the work down to bite-sized pieces/actionable steps that any of us or a delegate could readily understand and get done.

Pratishtha:  We had a strong support system with our committee, faculty, and staff. 

PGSRM COP Students at Thurs Night Dinner 2024
Conference planning committee members had fun getting ready for the opening-night dinner.

What will you take from the conference-planning experience and apply to your role as students and scientists?
Jay: For a student and an independent scientist, one key personal quality is the ability to communicate what you do, what you need, and what you can offer. Like other jobs, scientists work best when they work as a team, which requires rapport. I have grown a lot from helping organize the event in how I engage with people from different backgrounds and personalities.

Sanika: I agree with Jay. This conference played a vital role in improving my communication skills, how to deal with challenging situations, how to take the lead on the tasks and set groundwork for your team as a leader and at the same time, taking part in doing work as a team player. The whole process of conference planning also underlines the huge role of networking and having great supporters and mentors. 

Pratishtha: I would also say the interpersonal skills I sharpened while planning the conference.

What are you most proud of?
Pratishtha: I am proud of myself for volunteering for this role and of course of our whole team (staff, faculty, and volunteers), without them this event would not have been possible. 

Sanika: Yes, proud of everyone Pratishtha mentioned and myself, for pulling off a well-organized and fun-filled conference.

Jay: The fond memories and unforgettable experiences that we shared with all the volunteers and attendees. 

PGSRM 2024 COP Faculty Students Industry Rep
UI College of Pharmacy PSET faculty and graduate students, plus industry representatives and others, were excited for day two.