What is fair communication from a meeting? GRC?

I’m at a Gordon Research Conference, a new, wonderful one on Animal Microbe Symbioses. This first one was conceived by Nicole Dubilier and Ned Ruby. They wrote the proposal, got the funding, chose the speakers, then held their collective breaths, hoping we would come, signing up for unwieldy posters. And here we are, a roomful of scientists interested in symbiosis of microbes with just about anything, not limited to animals.IMG_6777

What I like to do at a meeting is to have a focus. I choose something that I really want to learn about and choose sessions according to that topic. This is particularly useful at large meetings like Evolution where there are many overlapping meetings. A focus will help you weave your way through the talks. Once I chose phylogenetics and it changed my reseach thereafter. But enough stories. Even at a Gordon Research Conference with a single plenary session, it makes sense to have a goal and a focus. I might write more on my focus here, but briefly my focus here is to see what people who study symbioses find to be important. Are they evolutionary or mechanistic? Are genomes central? What are the best organisms? Already I’ve learned a lot.

IMG_6775 But alas, I can’t tell you about it. I am explicitly, clearly forbidden to tell you about it. They even said they had ways of discovering if we were tweeting or blogging, which sounded odd. After all, don’t we do everything possible to make our tweets and blogs easy to find?

Perhaps this social media naivete is typical of this dinosaur organization that eschews sharing. So why can’t we keep the good of GRC, the long afternoon breaks, the alcohol, the active scientific interchange, but let there be tweeting, let there be blogs? Is what we are doing both so exciting and so easily stolen that sharing would be devastating? Have those of us here become so unhumanly trustworthy that we won’t steal but others might? Who is defending this anachronism? Why can’t each occurrence of each meeting choose their relationship with social media?

Lest you think I am a Polyanna about sharing, I’ll say, I don’t like it when people take photos of posters without permission. Or in talks for that matter, but this may be a convention, since people from some countries do this freely, as if it were normal for them. I would simply set a standard for that at a given meeting.

I even know a couple of stories of people who feel their work was stolen from someone who viewed their poster at a meeting. And there may be fields where there is stealing. I just don’t happen to be in one, as far as I know.

So I am fortunate enough to be at this Gordon Research Conference. Alex Wilson has just given a fabulous introduction to the field of symbiosis. I cannot imagine what might be stolen, but I’m following the rules, not saying anything that is not published, or is not in the easily available program for the meeting. Perhaps by reading one paper, which I will try to tweet, by each speaker, you will get more than I will from the talks. In fairness, you should also read a paper by each poster giver, but that would be so many.

If the trick is to break your routine and spend a few days listening to others, you can do that yourself if you have the will.

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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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