Thoughts From A Sea Urchin Meeting: Part 3

Previous entries about my experience at Developmental Biology of Sea Urchins: Part 1, Part 2

Day 3: Finding A Routine, Learning New Strategies, Seeing Strange Fashion


7:45 AM

On Saturday night, there’s a poster session and mixer. Over the last two days, many perfectly polished posters were pushpinned into place. In other, less alliterative words, right now there’s a room full of posters waiting to be discussed. It kind of feels like a locker room, with all of the posters playing the part of a team getting ready for their moment to shine.

Most mornings during my normal work week I’m awake around 6:30, and I get into lab around 8:30. This schedule works well at the conference, too, because here at MBL, breakfast is served from 7:00 until the first talks start at 8:30. I can get up when I normally would and get breakfast at a leisurely pace. But I’m unusual in the scientific community; most scientists are entirely not morning people. This resulted in the picture below, taken this morning:

Pictured: Science at 7 AM

Pictured: Science at 7 AM

It’s also funny to sit there and watch as pre-coffee scientists walk in and can’t figure out why the toaster keeps burning their toast. THERE’S A KNOB ON THE SIDE FOR COOKING TIME, DAMMIT. This poor woman must have turned three bagels into charcoal before figuring it out. If you’re as big a fan of people-watching as I am, a science conference is a great place to do it.

1:00 PM

There’s an older, heavier man here who has worn a different set of overalls and a plaid shirt every day. He will be giving a keynote talk tomorrow on how to sequence genomes with high accuracy and speed.

I talked to a few people about the disenfranchisement that I discussed earlier. It turns out that I was only partially right. There is definitely an old guard of the field that everybody is a bit afraid of. It turns out that they are the editors of some of the major journals in the field, which means that if they don’t agree with you, you won’t get published. This has been extremely frustrating to a number of them, but there’s a simple solution that’s gaining traction – publish in other journals. People are trying to publish in journals that have a similarly good reputation (or sometimes a better one) than the ones edited by these old guard researchers. In doing so, they are still getting their ideas out there, and they are reaching the scientists that need that information. So if the information’s good, you should be able to find someone who will publish it. And now there’s enough reputable publishing options that it’s possible to do so. Also, I should point out the fact that these “old guard” biologists are nice people for the most part, and the reason they’re so hard on new researchers is that they don’t trust their work yet. I don’t really see anything wrong with that mindset, but they could be less harsh about it.

5:45 PM

I’m starting to get burned out on talks. In the last 48 hours, I think I’ve listened to 36 speakers, and each person spoke for about 30 minutes. I feel like I went from basic understanding of sea urchin development, to extremely detailed understanding, and on to complete confusion. There were a few times today where I felt myself zoning out during the talks, too, so if you have no understanding or interest in the topic it would probably just blow right by you in under 30 seconds. Feeling like there’s too much is not unique to me, either; most of the people I’ve talked to feel like it’s a lot of science to take in. Only the most senior researchers, the ones with years of listening experience, seem to be able to keep up, and that seems to be due to a brilliant plan I call “strategic ignoring.” Basically, they can sleep through the first 15 minutes of each talk because it’s all background material they’ve heard plenty of times before. Once the speaker starts discussing something new they seem to perk up and pay attention. Most people here don’t feel comfortable doing that, since it feels disrespectful to not pay attention to a speaker. After all, you would want them to listen to your whole talk. Instead, they all try to pay attention to whole talks and end up falling asleep halfway through. Tomorrow is the last day of talks, and it’s an abbreviated schedule so that the poster session can have the full time that it deserves. This makes me hopeful that I’ll make it to the end with some real understanding of sea urchin development.


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