Today my research lab is gearing up to attend the Virginia Academy of Sciences annual meeting in Richmond VA. Student tension is high, nerves run deep. Tomorrow Laura presents a talk on the discovery of a new fossil whale, Brandi reports her findings on broken fossil shark teeth, Bryan prepared a poster on the evoltuion of polar auxin transport in gametophytes, and I will be carting Jessica’s poster on polar auxin transport in the moss Dicranium. Students are nervous and they are preparing and practicing. Posters have been finalized and are ready to be shared with the world. Talks are prepped and look great…so why do scientists attend meetings? Are they just ways to showcase what you have accomplished? Should we be nervous?
Well the general scientific meeting like VAS is set up to give local scientists and students the opportunity to present their findings to a friendly audience. Local meetings give us many ways to connect to other local scientisits, also! The local general meetings are great practice and should not be feared — but attended every time possible! Relaxed, yet inquizative folks are your audience. Sometimes another specialitist is there, but these conversations usually give insight into how we can improve our work. These opportunities should be welcomed and explored. At VAS, science is broken into categories. For example, the lab’s fossil whale and shark teeth talks are together in one section and the plant posters are in another. We get to wander in and out of areas of interest throughout the meeting– we are allowed to be curious and ask questions. This is what probably got many of us intreseted in science in the first place…curiousity.
The local general science meeting is a different world from the specialized society meeting. I belong to several plant biology groups (e.g. American Society of Plant Biology, Botanical Society of America) that are giagantic, and because of it they often possess that same feeling of curiousity…but since the entire meeting is on a much larger scale (usually international in attendance), your ability to jump around is limited because the chances of something in your specialty happening simultaneously with something “just interesting” is high.
When you compare these meetings to super specialty societies like the American Bryological and Lichenological Society or the American Fern Society we change gears again; these meetings are intense. Everyone knows everyone. Workshops and forays into the woods happen. People strike up collaborations and talk “shop” around the clock. Your strongest competitor is probably in the audience and listening to every word you are speaking. I personally find super specialty societiy meetings the most tiring but also the most invigourating. Hearing the latest cutting edge science in my specialty gets my mind and my scientific spirit racing. Competition pumps in my veins and I want to run to the lab and work on the latest crazy idea to pop into my head.
So should meetings be so nerve-wracking? No! Approach your next meeting with interest and curiousity. Use it as an opportunity to learn something…anything. I have been to meetings where my botanical knowledge grows immensely and I have been to others where I realized to never give a talk like Professor X just did! Take something away with you and grow on it. Our scientific selves are usually introverted, but remember, these smart adults were once geeky comic book readers and Dungeon and Dragon players just like you (or for my newer generation, video game players and Netflix junkies). They, too, quest for knowledge and are curious.
My last piece of advice is that when in doubt, go sight seeing. Most meetings happen in locals that inspire. Explore and have fun. Eat well, get some sleep, and think…always think!!
Until next time…