Scientific meetings are important, so plan your summer now

Some meeting deadlines have already passed. Others are hard on us. Choose a meeting now and figure out how to get to it. If you are a student, or postdoc, find all the competitions you can enter and do it. You can get information on the Ecological Society of America awards from the Oikos blog here. The Allee Symposium has a deadline coming up next week, so graduate students and recent graduate students headed to the Animal Behavior meetings in Albuquerque should send their papers now to Dan Rubenstein, second president elect. Find everything in your field and apply for it if you are eligible.

Meetings are important for stretching your perspective. You can learn things that you didn’t even know you wanted to know, but, once learned, change everything. I felt that way from just an hour talking to Adam Kuspa about Dictyostelium sociality yesterday. He challenged my view of a lot of really basic things. I know this may not be anything you care about, but at meetings you can find people that share your arcane interests. Adam made it clear that you are what you eat, even for a social amoeba. A weak immune system can change you. What seems dead may not be. These are big ideas, cool directions from one of the biggest thinkers in Dictyostelium biology, really exciting. What he said made two impressions on me. First, it will change how we do things. Second, the generosity of sharing unpublished ideas is something I love about the best scientists. We would never violate that trust. We will be careful to see to it that our experiments complement his and return the favor should we find something cool.

If you are a struggling student, you may find meetings a tough expense. I say you cannot afford not to go. Pay the student rate for registration. Get a group to drive if it is close, or buy your plane ticket early. For lodging try airbnb, couchsurfing, or camping if the rooms are too expensive. Buy food at a grocery store, or find cheap places to eat. Apply for all possible funding from the meeting, from your university, from your advisor, even from your family. But go, give a talk, or a poster, and talk with people you know and people you don’t know. You might even want to go to two meetings, one very close to your interests, the other in a stretch direction.

Try to have some goals as to what you want to learn before you go to the meeting. Look at the roster to see who will be there. If there are luminaries in your field, read the abstracts of some of their papers again so they are fresh. If you are timid about contacting those people, seek out their grad students and postdocs. Ask them questions about their work and they will talk. You could go to a meeting and learn nearly nothing, or have it change your life. It is up to you.

Have the 1 minute, 5 minute, even 10 minute version of what you do ready. Keep in mind the big reason you do what you do. Don’t talk about the methods at all. If they are in a close field, they will ask. Make sure you spend as much time talking about their research as talking about yours.

But it is all dependent on some fast actions now. If you missed the signup for a meeting presentation, American Society of Microbiology, for example, put it on your calendar for next year so it doesn’t happen again.

Have fun!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Presentations and seminars, Scientific meetings and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Scientific meetings are important, so plan your summer now

  1. Jason says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I am currently in the process of trying to figure out how I am going to get to the Evolution meetings this year (registration opened today). I will be able to get some money from the undergraduate research program I am in and some from the department, but I will surely have to cover some of the cost myself. The passport alone is going to cost $150. Last year it wasn’t a problem because I was able to get everything covered by my advisers grant, but that ended a couple months ago. I agree that as a student you cannot afford not to go. With the connections I was able to make at the meetings this past year, I definitely don’t want to miss the meetings this year.

  2. I’m delighted to hear you got so much out of last year’s Evolution meeting. I hope you find a way to get to the meetings this year. If you are in Michigan, New York, Vermont, or Washington you can get an enhanced driver’s license instead of a passport to go to Mexico or Canada. I don’t know what they cost, but I bet it is less than a passport. They used to have some special funds for undergraduates to go to the meetings, but I could not find this on the web page. You should email them and see if this is a possibility. Good luck!

  3. Doug Mock says:

    I’d like to add what may be an obvious thought about meetings for graduate students. Joan’s point about broadening on one’s perspectives applies not only to the science but also to the unavoidability of academic competition for jobs. It is just too easy to look around your local comparison group within one institution and decide “I’m doing very well,” but a trip to a major conference also lets you see what the best of your peers is up to. Entering student competitions brings this sharply into focus, of course, but even if all you do is listen and schmooze over beer, you quickly realize that it’s a big society. As well, you may listen to hot-shot student talks and realize, hey I can operate at that level, and go home all pumped up!

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