17 July 2014

Zombie symposium outbreak

The latest issue of Integrative and Comparative Biology is now out! And the cover story comes from one of the papers from the parasite symposium I co-organized with Kelly Weinersmith! It’s been three years in the making, and I want to tell you how it all happened.

It all started with #SciFund.

I sometimes tell students, “You never know who’s going to walk through your door,” as a way of saying that research and career opportunities and plans are often completely unpredictable. Someone you never heard of before walks through your door, and boom! You’re off on a new adventure.

Kelly Weinersmith walked through my door (figuratively) in the first round of #SciFund. We both had projects in round one, and got to know each other a bit through that. She invited me to be a guest on The Weekly Weinersmith podcast, which I was happy to do. We talked about zombie shrimp, because I had just published my first parasite paper (Carreon et al. 2011).

Shortly after this, around the end of 2011, I suggested to Kelly that we should do a symposium about parasite manipulation. The idea of parasites as “natural neuroscientists” had been used by a few people. It seemed to me that Kelly and I had a good combination of skills to sell that idea as a symposium (parasitology and neurobiology, respectively) .

I did not suggest we do this for Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), where it ended up. No, I suggested writing a proposal for a different, and much larger conference.

It was rejected. But... the reviews were actually encouraging. The program committee had suggested we submit it again next year.

Before the 2012 deadline for Big Conference rolled around, the deadline for for SICB came up. The SICB meeting for 2014 was in Austin. Living in far south Texas, a major conference in my field happening close enough to drive to is so rare that when it happens, I go.

It also seemed to me that SICB might also be a good fit, if not a better fit, than the Big Conference would have been. So we dusted off the proposal, rewrote it, and it was approved by the program committee.

The moral of that story is: Never throw away any of your writing.

From there, it was a matter of looking for external funding. SICB requires symposium organizers seek external funding. Kelly and I wanted to try a crowdfunding campaign, as between us we had a few successful crowdfunding campaigns under out belts. The SICB leadership, however, didn’t like the idea and told us not to. They were worried it would interfere with other SICB fundraising efforts. This baffled me, and is still rather a sore point.

Kelly and I wrote a grant for the National Science Foundation, which I had to submit because I had the faculty gig. And we got it.

The symposium came, and then we had to hunker down and get papers out to the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology (another requirement of the symposium).

I expected to submit one paper, based on data I presented at the symposium. I was caught off guard when the editor contacted Kelly and I to ask us for another paper, to introduce the symposium.

We wrote it, but it did make the early part of this year a bit frantic. I was in the middle of submitting a bunch of other manuscripts. Kelly was just about to deliver her first child. And yes, that Kelly was about to deliver her baby was the inspiration for this post.

I am pleased that our paper together is dedicated to the young Weinersmith, Ada Marie, shown at right.

But writing an introductory paper was not the first surprise I received from the journal editor. But that’s another story for another day.

Related posts

832 days: a tale of parasite publication
Zombie (scientific paper) outbreak!
Science babies


Carreon N, Faulkes Z, Fredensborg BL. 2011. Polypocephalus sp. infects the nervous system and increases activity of commercially harvested white shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus). Journal of Parasitology 97: 755-759. http://dx.doi.org/10.1645/GE-2749.1

Weinersmith K, Faulkes Z. 2014. Parasitic manipulation of hosts’ phenotype, or how to make a zombie—an introduction to the symposium. Integrative and Comparative Biology 54(2): 93-100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icb/icu028

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