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Student Perspectives: AAA Anatomy Connected 2024

Last March, the ATLAS Research Lab had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the American Association for Anatomy’s (AAA) annual conference, Anatomy Connected 2024! The Anatomy Connected conference is an annual meeting, open to AAA members from all over the world to meet and inspire each other, be exposed to the latest advances in anatomy, as well as present their work to others in the field. This blog post is a collection of our group’s highlights and experiences, featuring presentations given by our members in the conference.

Image caption: The 2023-2024 ATLAS Research team. From left to right: Callie Silverton, Angelo Sotto, Jennifer Choi, Dr. Danielle Bentley, Samantha Nacci, and Andre Williams.

Day 1

Anatomy Connected began on the afternoon of that Friday (Mar 22) with a pre-conference workshop titled “A Tour of Anatomical Representation Throughout The Ages”. Hosted by a team of four, including our ATLAS Lab PI Dr. Bentley, the workshop began with a tour of UofT's Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library. Following a brief presentation from librarian Alexandra Carter, attendees were invited to interact with exhibit collections which included works from classical anatomists such as Andreas Vesalius, Henry Gray, David Less Bassett, and Daniel John Cunningham. “What better way to enact the theme for Anatomy Connected 2024, ‘Visualization in Anatomy’, than to explore these historic texts and experience the visualization of the human form change over time,” recounts Dr. Bentley. “Hosting this event was one of many conference highlights for me. I was able to watch as members of my academic community burst with true excitement at the opportunity to touch these drawings and flip the physical pages of history”. The second portion of the pre-conference workshop included a tour of Grant’s Museum, led by Drs. Judi Laprade and David Mazierski. Participants toured the collection of original specimens used to create works from Grant’s teaching resources. This portion of the workshop also highlighted the medical illustrators who worked on Grant’s texts and their role in creating quality teaching materials. Attendees learned stories about the artists responsible for many of the works in Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy -- many of them women from the Greater Toronto Area -- and the different visual techniques they used to create the world-renowned collection. 

Image caption: Attendees of UofT’s Fisher Rare Books Library tour, led by Dr. Bentley and A. Carter, exploring historic texts and anatomical visualizations up for display.

Day 2

Our Saturday (Mar 23) started off with buddy meet-ups as part of the AAA’s Buddy Program, where junior mentees were paired with a more experienced, senior attendee as a networking opportunity. “The buddy meet-up program was an excellent opportunity to learn more about the different research and professional opportunities in anatomy,” Jana (one of the lab’s work-study students) recalls. “I was able to ask my mentor about their career trajectory and the challenges they faced along the way which helped me think more about my own future professional path. [It] was a very relaxed and informative event which eased my nerves going into the conference and made this weekend extremely fulfilling,” she elaborates.

We then attended various sessions throughout the day on topics such as ethics, design and anatomical illustration, leveraging artificial intelligence in anatomy, and many more. One of the highlights for Angelo (one of the lab’s work-study students) was the afternoon talk on the ethics of anatomical images, and the greatly-understated role of historical illustrations on the field of anatomy today: “I was shocked to learn about the dark history of certain anatomical images like those in the Pernkopf Atlas, for example, which largely used the bodies of those victimized by Nazi political terror,” he stated. “[The session] served as a great reminder of the suffering people faced that led to these images. I hope it inspired everyone in the room to not just be more cautious about what illustrations they use, but to also be more compassionate anatomists and individuals at large,” he further elaborates, citing the talk given by Dr. Claudia Krebs (University of British Columbia) as his personal favourite. Callie, one of the lab’s graduate students, also named this ethics talk as one of her favourites, saying that “The STEM field can be so insular — it was interesting and valuable to see experts discuss how anatomy fits within the context of the world and within history. We’re in an era of reckoning in general, so to hear this discussion of some of the more disturbing events involved in foundational work in our field was really important”.

Day 3

Sunday (Mar 24) was a particularly exciting day as it featured the first round of presentations given by our group - specifically, by Sam and Angelo! Sam (one of our graduate-level researchers) gave an oral presentation on the embryology curriculum for the Pathologists’ Assistant (PA) program here at UofT, and how it was created to align with vocational expectations as informed by practicing pathologists and PAs: “Attending my first conference was an extraordinary experience, especially being given the opportunity to deliver an oral presentation and being nominated as an award finalist. This journey enabled me to step outside my comfort zone, engage with eminent experts in the field, and forge significant connections and lasting friendships. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity and eagerly anticipate presenting my research in future endeavours,” Sam states.

Image caption: Sam (pictured) presenting her talk on the vocationally-informed embryology curriculum of the graduate-level Pathologists’ Assistant program offered at UofT.

Over the lunch hour many of our lab members participated in a networking Lunch ‘n Learn session on time management with UofT’s own Dr. John Tran and Kristy Cheung, both affiliated with the Division of Anatomy, in addition to many other international panelists. “Every year the AAA sponsors a Lunch ‘n Learn series at the conference. I am always very grateful for these opportunities to interact with students and junior faculty members”, reflects Dr. Bentley. “At my table, I learned a lot from the graduate students of the medical illustration program, who spoke candidly about their perspectives on working hours, task scheduling, and employer-employee relationships. I will take these perspectives with me as I continue to encourage my own team to set boundaries to protect their personal time.”  

That evening, Angelo gave a poster presentation (poster linked here) on the group’s pacing project, specifically the impact of allowing anatomy students to choose their lab exam pacing structure on test anxiety and academic performance: “It was my first time presenting a poster at a conference this big! I thought I would be nervous but the constant flow of the audience and the many new people I met during my session really helped with that,” he shares. The poster sessions allowed for a more relaxed environment, where presenters and audiences can “freely converse, bounce ideas off of each other, and critically think about the research in a collaborative way. I found that to be the best part,” Angelo further adds.

Image caption: Angelo (right) presenting his poster on the impact of examination pacing structure on test anxiety during anatomy laboratory exams.

Day 4

Our last day of the conference (Monday, Mar 25) started off with a symposium on “failing-forward” in education research, designed and chaired by Dr. Bentley with an invited presentation by our research coordinator, Andre. Andre and his collaborator, Stephen Magliocchetti from Western University, used a team-teach approach to co-present on the value of failure in human cadaveric dissection courses. The team-teaching process entailed both presenters working in close contact to design and deliver the talk, creating a dynamic and engaging experience for the audience. “Team-teaching at a conference is a novel experience for me! I love the benefit of having another set of experienced eyes working to storyboard and plan the talk, it helps a lot with making sure the audience can take away the main message. I also found that working with a partner enabled me to focus on speaking about my lived experience and promoting active reflection on failure, making the writing process feel natural and effortless,” he shares. The talk explored experiences of failure at different points in the speakers’ academic careers, highlighting the importance of deliberate reflection to find meaning in mistakes at any level of study.

Image caption: Symposium contributors for “Failing Forward in Education Research”. From left to right: chair - Danielle Bentley; speakers - Coral Murrant (University of Guelph), Stephen Magliocchetti (Queen’s University/Western University), Andre Williams (Queen’s University/University of Toronto), and Bill Ju (University of Toronto).

That morning, we also had the pleasure of attending a poster presentation given by Jennifer, one of our undergraduate researchers. Her poster (linked here) was about the group’s two-stage collaborative testing project, specifically investigating persuasion and conformity as negative social influences in that context: “Having the opportunity to meet and present to so many inspiring researchers and professionals was so exciting and rewarding! As this was my first large conference, I was nervous but quickly found out how supportive and equally excited all other attendees were as well. I presented our research and got helpful feedback from everyone who stopped by, and was able to even network beyond just the content of my poster! This was an amazing experience and a wonderful way to finish my last year of undergraduate studies,” Jennifer states, upon reflection.

Image caption: Jennifer presenting her poster on persuasion and conformity as negative social influences in two-stage collaborative testing.

In addition to the posters and exhibits, the group also took some time to take pictures (a very important task indeed!) and check out the vendors before teardown, as the conference came to an end. A few of the pictures we took are displayed below.

And last but not least was the awards ceremony dinner, where Sam was awarded first place for the Education Research Platform competition! Congratulations Sam! “I was in utter shock when I heard my name called. My session consisted of many great presentations by researchers in Canada and the United States. I am incredibly honoured to receive this award. The capstone project has surpassed all my expectations, and it was truly gratifying to share the research findings, which are highly pertinent to the progression of Pathologists' Assistant education. It was a full circle moment for me, validating that all the effort I put in has truly paid off,” she exclaims.

Image caption: Left: Sam (right) receiving the first place award for the Education Research Platform competition. Right: Sam pictured with her award.

Closing Remarks...

Upon reflection, we at the ATLAS Research Lab are so grateful to have been involved and to have had the company of everyone in the conference through it all. It was an amazing learning experience and we had the best time making new connections. We can’t wait to see what’s ahead and are looking forward to more opportunities like this in the future! (Stay tuned…)

Published abstracts for the presentations given by our group will be linked here once they are made available later this summer.



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