From Learner to Leader: My experience of Computational Neuroscience Imbizo

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2024 is my last edition of the Computational Neuroscience Imbizo, a gathering to share knowledge, create connections, and an adventure that has changed my life.

As I reflect on my involvement in the Imbizo story, I have a profound sense of gratitude and nostalgia. the Imbizo has been an integral part of my personal and professional journey, first as a student in 2017, then as an organizer from 2019 until 2024.

My first Imbizo in the Cape Town summer of 2017 (also, the first imbizo) was a pivotal moment in my career. As a budding neuroscientist, the summer school opened a new world of possibilities, ideas, and people. The diverse, vibrant community of mentors and peers provided a fertile ground for learning and collaboration, significantly shaping my professional path. The people I met at the Imbizo have positively shaped my life; I am indebted to those who have provided reference letters, housing in foreign lands, and just being a friendly and familiar face at conferences. The world has felt a little smaller because the community is strong.

Things heated up as I transitioned to an organizer role in 2019. I was eager to learn more from and contribute more to the community. The experience has been both challenging and rewarding, allowing me to contribute to a program that is breaking barriers in neuroscience education in Africa. Together with an excellent team we worked intentionally to create an inclusive, stimulating environment for students from various backgrounds, ensuring that the Imbizo was not just a learning platform but also a place for cultural and intellectual exchange.

Over the years, I have witnessed the remarkable warmth of the Imbizo: the gathering itself and the community that is built from the 3-week furnace of science and socialising. From its curriculum to its expanding network of alumni, the program has consistently pushed the frontiers of computational neuroscience. It has been a privilege to be part of this journey, fostering a space where the next generation of computational neuroscientists can thrive.

As I step away from my role, I carry with me invaluable lessons and memories. The Imbizo has been more than just a summer school; it has been a community of firey, passionate individuals dedicated to advancing African | computational | neuroscience (pick any combo). I am immensely proud of what we have achieved and am confident that the future of the Imbizo is bright.

To the students, faculty, mentors, and fellow organizers, I extend my heartfelt thanks. Your enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication have been the driving force behind the burning success of the Imbizo. I am excited to see how you will continue to innovate and inspire. To the people on the ground who make things happen, I appreciate everything you have done to keep us hearty, happy, and healthy.

I would like to thank Emma Vaughan for being the Donna Emma of the Imbizo: getting shit done (GSD), making things happening, and looking after everyone to ensure we are safe, cared for, and having fun. To Alex, for leading the way as the first head mentor/TA and for being a core part of the first few editions to actually get it off the ground; you have been an inspiration and I hope you’re proud of the mantle we’ve shared. To Spiros, I have full trust in passing the torch to you. Trust in yourself too, you already shine so brightly. Special mention to Annik who I fondly associate with Imbizo year-on-year. To all directors, past, present, and future, for making an indilible mark on the Imbizo community. To Tim V, for being someone I shoot the shit with to my boss, my mentor, and someone I greatly admire (and still shoot the shit with). Thank you for starting the Imbizo and being passionate about the people. To Joe, for pioneering (Computational) Neuroscience in South Africa. Your thoughtfulness and gentleness have provided unparalleled empathy to the people who are passionate about science. Your scientific rigour, honesty, and general impressiveness have been an academic rolemodel to many a student. You are an inspiration to the Imbizo community, and to me.

Finally, to my fellow mentors and teaching assistants, you have been my support and inspiraion. I always aimed to embrace and empower you. It is now my turn to take a step back and reflect upon how you have embraced me as a fellow mentor. You empowered me to be a better person and a better leader; you made my role more meaningful. Thank you for being intentional and deliberate. What seems routine with modern Imbizos is due to the thoughtful suggestions, valuable feedback, and guiding lessons that the mentors have provided. From mini-projects to swimming lessons to diversity discussions to ice-breakers and many more, these exist as they are because of you. I have full trust that future Imbizos will have similarly strong mentors and leaders. Yet for now, it is hard to imagine a better group of people to spend my many many many Imbizo hours with - more than 3000 hours at the Imbizo itself (most of those awake hopefully!).

Though I am stepping back, I am not saying goodbye. My journey with the Imbizo will always be a cherished part of my story and I aim to have a meaningful high-level impact as I advise from afar. I look forward seeing the continued impact of this incredible course on the lives of many more aspiring neuroscientists: it is the people that make the Imbizo.

With sincere gratitude,

Chris Currin