Should officers at scientific meetings be identified?

Should officers of a scientific society have a little ribbon on their badges to identify them, or should they circulate anonymously through the posters and coffe breaks? I don’t know how I feel about this.

I’m just home from two meetings that do things in opposite ways. The Animal Behavior Society badge was a default business one, so I was identified simply as Joan. In small print below was my last name and institution. You’d really have to stare to see either. This is silly for a scientific community where there are hundreds or thousands of us and we know each other by the papers we write and identify those by last names. But should the officers and organizers be identified?

Then I went to the American Society for Microbiology. They had my full name in capital letters, which was good. But then they had a ribbon underneath saying I was a speaker. If I were an organizer and a speaker, I would have had two ribbons. I should have looked around more to see what was the most ribbons a person could have. A couple of vendors made their own ribbons for people to put on their badges, spoofing the system. I could have added “I am a Labguru” and “DO MORE SCIENCE” if I wanted. I found it embarrassing and unnecessary to be identified as a speaker. There are hundreds of us. I can’t help you with anything a non-speaker couldn’t also help you with.

At a meeting I went to a couple of years ago, the IUSSI, in Copenhagen, the local organizers and assistants, from grad students to professors, all had identifying t shirts on. This was really helpful.

I don’t like the idea of different classes of people, so that would argue against different badges. But I also don’t like secret societies, or feeling like the organization is run by an unknown club. That would argue for identifying the officers. There are times I would like to either compliment or complain to the local host, and I might not know who it is if they are not identified.

Name tags matter because we don’t necessarily remember faces that well. Some people can’t see them at all. I suppose whether officers are identified is a matter of convention. I think I might slightly prefer they be identified. But most of all, I would like to see first and last names in big print. What do you prefer?

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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
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5 Responses to Should officers at scientific meetings be identified?

  1. Andrea says:

    I think for ABS the society is small enough such that there is inertia from within to know who is who. When I first joined I was lucky to have an advisor that introduced me to folks at the meeting. We try to do that now with our students. In terms of going up to chat with someone, I think that it is easier for younger students to not feel intimidated by a last name, and hence the first name emphasis is good. There are a lot of big names out there that I probably would never have approached had I known how ‘big’ they were 🙂

  2. Hi Andrea. That is an interesting thought. I never was much bothered by big names, just wanted to find the people I might share interests with. Now I just want to be sure who they are if they come up to me and say hi and I know I know them, but need to see that last name to remember well!

  3. Jeremy Fox says:

    At the Ecological Society of America, society officers and others (like the journal EiC) get ribbons to hang from their name badges. Years ago, Anne Kinzig (I think it was her) printed up a bunch of spoof ribbons and passed them out to her friends. The funniest one read “Best In Show”. 😉

    At the British Ecological Society Meeting, attendees had the option to specify a “nickname” on their registration form. A friend of mine, Dave Murrell, just put down “Dangerous”, as a joke. He didn’t realize that, if you filled in a nickname, that’s what went onto your name badge instead of your first name. So his badge read “Dangerous Murrell”. He wrote in “Dave” by hand, and for the rest of the meeting (and a long time after) we all gave him a hard time by calling him Dangerous Dave. 😉

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