Intern Intel: My Brief (But Exciting) Work at the (Eng)aging! Conference

May 9, 2019

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of our new series, “Intern Intel.” This series is intended to give students with internships a platform to reflect on what they have gained from those experiences. On the flip side, we hope this series will also be informative for future NYU Prague students who are considering these internships and want to know more about what to expect from them before applying.

Photo Credit: Ryan Campbell

 

This March, I had the pleasure of serving as a program assistant and reporting intern at the (Eng)aging! Conference organized by Keystone s.r.o. Though my time working for them was rather short — the conference itself only being a week long — it served as both an enjoyable and surprisingly fascinating experience, and a brief foray into the world of public relations and reporting.

 

This opportunity arose out of my interest in The Forum 2000 Foundation. Developed in 1996 by Vaclav Havel (you may have heard of him), Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel and Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, the foundation was designed with a simple goal: to bring together academics and activists from around the globe to discuss and debate the pressing cultural, political and religious issues facing democracies worldwide. The foundation strives to cultivate platforms and dialogues that can expand global awareness of these issues, while aiming to catalyze both tolerance and progressive reform internationally.

 

Their flagship event, eponymously titled the Forum 2000 Conference, is held annually in Prague and typically revolves around a single issue pertaining to modern democracies, be it education, globalization, the media or human rights. Each year, the conference includes a vast roster of major world leaders and thinkers, ranging from the likes of the Dalai Lama to former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

 

Upon first learning about the Forum 2000 Foundation, I was hooked. I was eager to work for an NGO and to likewise cement my skills in both public relations and journalism. But above all else, I was genuinely intrigued by the platform’s optimistic, inclusive philosophy. I immediately applied, enthusiastic about what the opportunity would hold.

 

In late February, the program coordinators at the foundation got back to me. Though they told me that the Forum 2000 Conference itself wouldn’t be held until October, I was invited to participate in another program called the (Eng)aging! Conference, organized by a group called Keynote s.r.o. This weeklong program explored the intersection of contemporary technology and healthcare, discussing both the benefits and challenges new technologies place upon the elderly in particular.

 

They were looking for program assistants to floor-manage at (Eng)aging! Conference’s various panels and keynotes, as well as writers to draft up reports on these events. As someone with little to no knowledge about the intersection of technology and international healthcare, but a readiness to learn more, I couldn’t turn the offer down.


Overall, my time working at the (Eng)aging! Conference was amazing. First, as a floor manager, it was my duty to keep each panel or seminar on track. This included setting up refreshments and placards for presenters, notifying speakers of how much time they had remaining in their allotment and passing around the microphone during the Q&A sessions. While this role didn’t exactly demand any skill or creativity, it did give me the chance to digest each clever morsel of what each of the speakers had to say.

Photo Credit: Ryan Campbell

 

My favorite role, however, was serving as a reporter. Given a close-up seat to get full view of the panels, it was my duty to generate brief summaries and reports regarding these presentations. The panelists all spoke in highly technical, jargon-ridden terms and were moving at a breakneck pace to fit all of their content into the short time frames they had, so I definitely had my work cut out for me. My time during these sessions was spent frantically scribbling down notes, jotting down the tiniest details and data, and listening closely for sound bytes that my managers could use on social media.

 

The most challenging moments came during the “Tech Sessions”  held on the last day of the conference. With nine presenters, each given a 15-20 minute period to discuss the breakthroughs their companies or organizations had achieved, I found myself writing a mile a minute, my eyes glued to my journal. By the end of the over-two-hour period, my neck was in dire need of a break. It was all strangely exhilarating — I felt like I had developed tunnel vision, my head completely blocking out everything else in the world as I desperately tried to gather as much information as possible. I felt like Spongebob when he was forced to omit everything from his brain except “fine dining and breathing,” except for me it was everything but writing and sound bytes.

 

The presentations themselves were genuinely mind-blowing. I was enthralled by some of the technology that was introduced and even more amazed by the ways this technology was being adapted towards healthcare. Some highlights included a toddler-sized therapy robot capable of engaging in conversation, an app designed to automatically send emergency distress messages to local authorities when its user is injured or lost and even virtual reality games designed to help the elderly maintain their memory and basic cognitive skills.

 

Photo Credit: Ryan Campbell 

 

But the most jaw-dropping of them all came from British professor Kevin Warwick, whose work in culturing neurons and developing electrotherapy technology is truly testing the ways we monitor brain activity. He contended that medicine is slowly seeing a shift towards electrode treatment, citing ways that doctors can use these innovations to assess and understand a patient’s disease in an unprecedented way. In one video, he showed how the use of electrodes was able to temporarily stop the tremors of a man with Parkinson’s disease. The man, who is at first unable to even move, was all of a sudden able to stand up and walk. I was baffled.

 

Warwick also revealed the ways electrodes could be used to push the boundaries of the interconnected world. He showed us his new project, BrainGate, in which he and his wife installed tiny processors into their own nervous system. These processors allowed them to connect to digital networks around the world, and to even operate technology thousands of miles away. Warwick and his wife could even communicate through their nervous systems — one demonstration showed how his wife could relay a palpable pulse to his own whenever she closed her hand. Call it groundbreaking, call it downright terrifying, call it the newest plot for a “Black Mirror” episode — whatever you call it, it was damn sure incredible.


Ultimately, this experience gave me an excellent chance to try my skills as a reporter and moreover exposed me to some truly cutting-edge, revolutionary work being done across the globe. I loved getting the chance to write reports for this conference and will probably still be thinking about some of the presentations (some for their innovation, others for their ethical quandaries) for quite some time going forward. I am so grateful for this opportunity and thank everyone both at NYU Prague, Forum 2000 and Keynote s.r.o for making this experience possible. I would absolutely recommend it to future NYU Prague students!

 

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