Stay for the whole meeting, skip some of the talks

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. Mary Jane West Eberhard, 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 Sarah Hrdy, 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.

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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 Scientific meetings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Stay for the whole meeting, skip some of the talks

  1. Janis Dickinson says:

    Joan – I loved your blog about the ABS meeting and your statements about the value of being a member of our tribe. I’m so sorry I missed the meeting. Thanks for this blog and for the wisdom and heart you bring to it. Hope to see you soon!

    • Thanks. I love everything you do for keeping the public involved in science. We have been thinking of you at ABS with Jack and Sandy there, and also now, in the San Francisco area for more meetings, American Society for Microbiology, my other tribe.

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