12 January 2017

Bound by ribbons: SICB 2017

I’ve been to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting before, and I’ve been to conferences in New Orleans before. Based on that, you would think this meeting would be routine for me.

It was not. It was a very different meeting experience, for a couple of reasons. First, I was coming off a very intense teaching semester, and I was nowhere near as prepared as I should have been. I felt discombobulated a lot during this meeting,

Second, I was at the meeting not to present any of my own science, not to see any new science. I was participating in my role as chair of the Society’s Student and Post-doctoral Affairs Committee (SPDAC). This not only gave me ribbons to put on my badge, it completely changed my conference experience.

First, there were the meetings. I understood that I had my own committee’s meeting to chair. But I didn't quite realize that I was also expected to be at two executive committee meetings, and at the Broadening Participation committee meeting. And two of those were at 7:00 am! By the time I rolled into the second early morning meeting on the last day of the conference, I was grumpy and hated the conference and the world and no amount of variety in the hotel’s breakfast offerings would cheer me up.

Then, there was the SPDAC booth. The committee, unique among all the committees, had a booth in the vendors area to serve as a place where students come ask questions ad voice concerns. I was a little embarrassed by our bare booth, so midway through day one, I got some candy and chocolates to hand out as “booth bait.” I tried to stay at the booth as much as a I could, although this was mostly coffee during coffee breaks and the poster sessions. Staying at the booth did make it a little harder to get to get to sessions and posters.

All of this meant I didn’t see as many talks, or have as many port unities to explore nearby, as I normally would at a meeting.

I also found out rather late in the game that I was expected to give a talk at the first timer’s orientation session. I had a slide deck from their previous year’s talk as a starting point, but I wasn’t given any other parameters. I thought I might be faced with maybe high tens of people, max, in an average sized room.

Instead, I was facing hundreds of people in a combined ballroom. This was just after I had posted my a little essay on why you should always be afraid during a presentation, and it was easy. I would have done things much differently if I’d known how big the room was. I just tried to be breezy and quick and show a lot of advice from people on Twitter. Fortunately, several people told me afterwards that it was good, so I got to breath a big sigh of relief.

My other performance was as the moderator of the SPDAC roundtable on academic power struggles. It took the conversation a little while to get rolling, but once it did, it was very thoughtful and enjoyable. There were lots of good ideas about how students can approach conflict resolution.

I also added three new pokémon to my pokedex in Pokémon Go.

While I had a good time and managed not to have any epic fails during the meeting (other than stores that I wanted to visit closing by the time I got there), I felt the frustration of feeling that I wasn’t prepared and could have done so much better.

The good news is that I have a chance to prove that I can do better in about 51 weeks time, when I head to San Francisco for SICB 2018.

Conference low point: Biting into a Zapp’s Voodoo flavored potato chip. I am a potato chip purist: carbs, fats, and salt are all I crave in a chip, not flavours. But the SPDAC meeting had a box lunch with only Voodoo flavoured chips. I was hungry, thought I would try it, and Cat (one of the committee members) offered me a bite of hers so I didn’t have to commit to opening the whole bag.

I had to spit it out. My instant reaction was, “People eat these voluntarily?”

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