Sometimes it seems like there is this game at meetings where people show how important they are by how little time they can stay. They just dash in, give their talks, then dash out. Don’t do this. Meetings are not only about the talk or poster you give. They are not only about the talks you hear or posters you visit either. Most of all they are about the time you spend talking science and the scientific life with old friends and new ones. You will learn about new big ideas, about techniques that will help, and about movements in the field. You will get helped and you will help others. Most of all, you will have fun.
I had a wonderful time at this year’s Animal Behavior meeting in Albuquerque. , Joan Silk, and Bill Rice in particular gave great plenary talks. I also heard a lot of other really interesting work in talks and at posters. But the best time of all was an afternoon I spent in a comfortable chair opposite , with Athena Aktipis and her new baby, Anna Dornhaus, Aurelio Jose Figueredo, Mark Flinn and other people coming and going, joining and leaving the conversation. We talked about all kinds of things. I wish I could reconstruct the conversation or what exactly I learned, but I can’t. The conversation did not result in any new collaborations, but it could have. Athena graciously allowed me to take a picture of her nursing little Vaughn to replace the muddy painting I have of this most wonderful illustration of cooperation. Sarah was radiant, as mischievous and brilliant as I remember from those days we taught matching courses in animal and primate behavior at Rice University nearly 30 years ago. I put in the top bid for the walnuts she brought to the silent auction, so as I munch I can remember her.
Other great times were dinner with Jack Bradbury and Sandy Veherencamp, talking about life, kids, geothermal heat, birds, and communication. It was fun to see Jennifer Fewell‘s basketball networks, and to hear about the baby in Anne Danielson-Francois‘s future. I treasure these times discussing what is important to old friends and new. There were many more I’m not naming. This is our tribe in many respects and reaffirming ties is why we come to meetings.
My point is that none of this happens during the talks. So, stay for the whole meeting. Skip some but not all of the talks. Push to get the conversation past chit-chat so you can find out what people are really up to, what is important to them. Then you will come away from the meeting enriched with energy to forge ahead in this complex scientific field.