The second annual CDT Smart Medical Imaging Residential Retreat took place 9-10th May 2023 at the stunning De Vere Horsley Estate, nestled in the picturesque Surrey countryside.

The Residential Retreat is devised for the students of the CDT, as well as operational and academic staff, to enjoy some time together out of the University environment, enjoying a host of activities, guest speakers and poster presentations – as well as plenty of delicious food and drink!

The Annual External Advisory Board Meeting was also scheduled to take place during the retreat, to review the successes and the challenges of the previous year and discuss the future of the CDT.

The retreat kicked off with a collaborative outdoor teambuilding activity for the students, based on the 90’s classic gameshow Scrapheap Challenge. The students were divided into smaller groups and were confronted with a pile of equipment which at first glance appeared destined for the scrapyard.

Each group was tasked with creating a chain reaction using the equipment within their allotted zone – which must eventually link up with all other zones to create a giant and visually striking chain reaction as the grand finale. As they put their minds together to create some ingenious designs, they saw their entire machine working together as a whole.

The challenge was designed to promote creativity and teamwork, and all worked together to succeed in the challenge. Best of all, despite the predicted thunderstorms, the weather held out for an enjoyable time had by all.

Once back inside and well-fed, the packed retreat programme began, which included plenary talks from specially invited speakers, including Professor Steve Archibald from Hull University, who spoke about Radiopharmaceutical Development: from novel imaging agents to advanced radiotracer production, and Dr Cat Kelly from BluMaiden Biosciences who discussed AI in Smart Imaging: from research to clinical practice.

CDT Alumni Dr Esther Puyol and Dr Saul Cooper (from cohorts 1 and 3 respectively) were also invited to give talks on their work and life post-CDT, which was received warmly with great interest from the current students.

Part of the programme also included a chance for students to showcase their work, through either a poster presentation or a 20-minute talk. It is an excellent addition to the retreat, enabling students to learn about what their peers are working on, and to discuss and debate exciting developments.

Prizes were awarded for the best demonstrations, with Robbie Holland winning the award for best talk on Clustering disease trajectories in contrastive feature space for biomarker discovery in age-related macular degeneration, which included an inventive and humorous rap. Judges were split on the award for best Poster Presentation, so the top prize was eventually awarded to two students, with Jie Tang and Simon Dahan scooping the richly deserved honours.

Following a chance to unwind and rest, guests of the retreat then enjoyed a three-course evening dinner, in the stunning Horsley Towers, once home of Ada Lovelace, designed and built in 1820 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament.

Overall, the retreat was a great success, with warm feedback received from all who attended. As the world has reopened post-pandemic, events like this offer the students a chance to properly socialise and interact with each other, something that was missed out on during the restrictions of the lockdown era. Students and staff are already looking forward to next year’s retreat!