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2021 ASSBI Conference

The 6th Pacific Rim conference was held from 30 June – 3 July 2021, and was the first joint conference of the International Neuropsychological Society (INS), the Australasian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment (ASSBI), and the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Clinical Neuropsychologists (CCN).  The conference theme was “Putting our heads together to change lives”, which had several intended meanings: not only did 3 organisations collaborate to put together this conference, but it was also a way to connect across disciplines, across countries, across topics of research, and across clinical practice and research, all in the service of improving the lives of people living with conditions affecting the brain.

This conference was unique and challenging in several ways. The most prominent of these was that a Melbourne-based COVID outbreak and associated restrictions forced the hybrid conference to turn completely virtual, just 10 days before the conference was due to start. This meant a dizzyingly large number of quick changes to our plans, requiring a flurry of last minute instructions, acquisition of new IT skills, and emails to presenters, chairs, and delegates (sorry everyone!). It was a true test of cognitive, behavioural, and emotional flexibility. We are very proud that we managed to pull it off, with surprisingly few hiccups.

We were delighted to host 728 registered delegates for this conferencefrom all corners of the world: Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Norway, Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Chile, Finland, Bangladesh, Argentina, Israel, and Malaysia.  The programme involved plenary sessions from 3 international keynote speakers (Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, A/Prof Sarah McPherson, and Prof Neil Pliskin), 3 national keynote speakers (A/Prof Emma Power, Dr Kylie Radford, and A/Prof Rene Stolwyk), 3 presidential addresses (Prof Skye McDonald, Prof Olivier Piquet and Amy Scholes), plus 6 highly successful pre-conference workshops, 3 mini-masterclasses, 3 invited symposia, 70 platform papers, 56 datablitz papers, 88 posters, and 15 ‘How to’ sessions.

In the absence of a physical location for the conference, the level of engagement and connection on Twitter was extraordinary. The #headstogether2021 hashtag had over 2.33 million impressions! We had 2145 tweets, 226 engaged participants, 21 average tweets per hour and an average of 9 tweets per participant across the entire conference – This is amazing! There were also several fabulous “watch parties” in places where that was allowable.

Much fun was had at our virtual welcome ceremony on the evening of Day 1, where attendees were put into random breakout rooms to guess “The Masked Presenter”, and participated in a treasure hunt and other shenanigans with great enthusiasm. Prior in the day, there were a series of workshops on wide-ranging topics including: electrical injuries, holistic approaches to neuropsychology with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, child concussion (from Prof Vicki Anderson and colleagues), teleneuropsychology, executive function assessment, and implementation of communication partner training.

The main conference was opened on Day 2 with a beautiful welcome to country from Aunty Georgina, followed by welcomes from the conference co-convenors and the Presidents and Chairs of INS (Prof Skye McDonald), ASSBI (Prof Olivier Piguet) and CCN (Dr Amy Scholes), all of whom also gave inspiring and engaging presidential addresses as part of the conference programme.

Other programme highlights from the conference were keynote presentations by Professor Neil Pliskin, who conveyed an encouraging message about the value of neuropsychology; Dr Kylie Radford, who inspired us with her crucial co-design work with indigenous Australians; A/Prof Rene Stolwyk, who gave a comprehensive update on the current state of tele-neuropsychology research and practice; Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, who normalised adolescent risk-taking; A/Prof Sarah McPherson, who got us thinking about executive functions; and A/Prof Emma Power, who shed light on the important but oft-overlooked issue of sexuality and intimacy after acquired brain injury. We also had fabulous mini-masterclasses on vocational rehabilitation, voluntary assisted dying, and cognitive rehabilitation in psychiatric disorders.

A unique and popular feature of the program was a debate on the merits of Goal Attainment Scaling, which was organised and run by Professor Barbara Wilson, with impressive and persuasive speakers both for and against. The ‘against’ team managed to sway some (but not all!) voters over to their side.

There was a superb array of high-quality platform, datablitz, poster and ‘how to’ presentations, covering topics from COVID-19, to paediatrics, adult ADHD, brain injury rehabilitation, speech and language, accommodation issues, and more.

Our conference dinner would have been held on the evening of Day 3, but alas was not to be. We are all greatly anticipating/hoping for a spectacular return to conference dance floors in 2022.

The 4 day conference ended with our award ceremony and prizes.   The following is a list of prizes and awarded given out on the day:

ASSBI Awards

Kevin Walsh Award – Best Presentation by a Masters student

  • Josephine Paasila (Sydney University) – “Do Reasons for Living and Other Protective Factors Buffer against Psychological Distress and Suicide Ideation Following Severe TBI? A Cross-Sectional Study”

Luria Award – Best Presentation by a PhD Candidate

  • Amelia Hicks (Monash University) – “Does ongoing cognitive decline occur decades after a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury? A prospective controlled study” 

Travel Award

  • Grace Wei (Sydney University) – “Behavioural and psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with dementia and their carers: an international study”

INS Awards

INS Early-Career Award

  • Professor Muireann Irish (University of Sydney)

INS  Mid-Career Award

  • Professor Tamara Ownsworth (Griffith University)

INS Lifetime Research Award

  • Professor Joan Borod (City University of New York, USA)

INS Distinguished Career Award

  • Professor Robyn Tate (University of Sydney)

INS Mentoring Award

  • Professor Nancy Foldi (City University of New York, USA)
  • Professor Peter Arnett (Pennsylvania State University, USA)

Marit Korkman Award – Best Presentation by Graduate Student in Paediatric Neuropsychology

  • Cecilia Law (Sydney University) – “Factor Structure of the Parent and Child Memory Questionnaires: Exploratory Factor Analysis with Typically Developing Children”

Phillip Rennick Award – Best Presentation by a PhD Candidate

  • Talia Nardo (Macquarie University) – “Cognitive Rehabilitation for Substance Use Disorder: Results from the ACE Stepped-Wedge Cluster Randomised Trial.”

Laird Cermak Award – Memory functioning and memory disorders research award

  • Diana Ramirez (La Trobe University) – “The experience and acceptability of smartphone reminder app training for people with acquired brain injury: a mixed methods study”

Nelson Butters Award – Award for best Postdoctoral Researcher award

  • Kristina Haebich (MCRI) - Telehealth-delivered neurodevelopmental Assessments in children and adolescents (Tele-Assess): preliminary neuropsychological assessment results

INS Student Liaison Committee Awards

  • Laura Connolly (Monash University) – “Home-Based Light Therapy for Fatigue Following Acquired Brain Injury: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial”
  • Mitchell Byrne (Macquarie University) - “Post traumatic amnesia duration as a predictor of cognitive outcome in a litigating, non-malingering traumatic brain injury sample”
  • Hayley Pickering (La Trobe University)  – “Visuospatial Memory and Vocabulary Relations in School-Aged Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
  • Halle Quang (UNSW) – “Do more for more: Reward processing underlying apathy following moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury”
  • Katherine Franks (University of Melbourne) – “Association of psychological stress with risk of mild cognitive impairment: A systematic review and meta-analysis”

CCN Awards:

  • Jessica Peters (La Trobe University) - “Action video game training improves text reading accuracy, rate and comprehension in children with dyslexia: A randomized controlled trial.”–
  • Amie Foran (University of Adelaide) – “The QuickSort: a brief, new cognitive screen for older adults.”
  • Anita Dharan (University of Melbourne) – “Cognitive comorbidities in juvenile absence epilepsy.”

Thank you to all the delegates who provided feedback on the conference.  We were very gratified to see an average attendee rating of 4.7/5.  Attendees enjoyed the breadth and quality of presentations. There was mixed feedback about the online format.  Although many people missed being able to be together face-to-face, many attendees appreciated the flexibility of the online delivery.  It was suggested that future events should be hybrid, to enable people to attend around their other work or family commitments. Session recordings were also appreciated so that people could watch at a time that suited them, or watch sessions that had been programmed concurrently.

A big thank you to everyone who made this conference a success. Special thanks to the Melbourne Convention Bureau, who worked alongside us to try and bring you all to visit our wonderful city of Melbourne.  Although it was not to be, they really were fantastic to work with, and we do hope our interstate and international delegates manage to visit Melbourne in the future.  We would also like to shout out to the team at the Melbourne Convention Centre, who did their best to try and accommodate our needs and help us deal with the constantly changing regulations.  Thanks also to Showtime Events who were very understanding when we had to cancel the dinner last minute.  Thanks to our Principal Conference Partner, the Transport Accident Commission; our major partner, Brightwater; and our community partners Coviu, Drake Medox, Ipsen, Pearson, and the Summer Foundation.  We also appreciate the sponsorship from Cambridge University Press and Rehability Australia. Thank you also to the 2021 Conference Organising Committee: Kelly Allott, Marina Cavuoto, Kate Gould, David Lawson and Jessica Trevena-Peters, as well as the Scientific Committee. Kate Gould and David Lawson also ran an amazing community forum on Research Co-Design the day before the conference, with support from the genyus network’s Caleb Rixon – thank you! A special mention to our 3 student conference organising committee members – Jonathan Reyes, Anique Muttiah, and Aishani Desai. Your leadership, enthusiasm, teamwork, and can-do attitude was inspiring. The other student volunteers also really stepped up, especially crucially as our IT support team, for which we are incredibly grateful– thank you Donella Coro, Alex Davies, Thomas Goodwin, Amelia Hicks, Susan Langborne, Elise Li, Ruth Minkov, Bill Nguyen, Daniel Pearce, Rebekah Simpson, Paulina Stedall, Hariklia Vagias, and Lucie Zwart. Thank you to our conference steering committee, Jacinta Douglas, Simon Crowe, and Vicki Anderson, for giving us the opportunity to chair this conference, providing us with plenty of freedom in the program design, but having our backs when needed. Finally, none of this could have been achieved without, of course, the incredible organisational prowess of Margaret “the Terminator” Eagers, and her 2IC tech support Matt Eagers. Thank you all for making the 6th Pacific Rim conference such a fantastic success.

Dr Kerryn Pike, Dr Travis Wearne & Dr Dana Wong




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