Part 4: The Last of the Talks & a Poster Session
I’d like to take a moment to talk more generally about the dinners here. Not about the food, mind you, but about the people. For example, as people arrived on the first day, they would unload their stuff as quickly as they could to get to the dining hall. Yes, they we hungry, but more often they were coming in to see who was already there. Almost all of the professors in the sea urchin community know each other, either from past meetings or from having worked in the same labs before, as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. And so there was a distinct reunion vibe to this first dinner that was a bit infectious. I remember one woman walking in with her bags and looking around. When she saw someone she knew, she dropped her bags and ran across the room to give him a hug and start a conversation. While these people email and call each other fairly frequently, they only get to see each other at this meeting, which only happens once every eighteen months or so. It doesn’t matter that they’re scientists, they still treat this meeting as a great opportunity to catch up with old friends. One really interesting way this manifests is that the PIs often all sit together at two or three tables in the corner, so that they can all keep talking at every meal. Also, at dinner tonight, I had the apparently revolutionary idea to walk along the whole dinner buffet to decide what I wanted to eat before getting into line. I find it fascinating that people that are generally very careful can go to dinner, get their food, then sit at a table with their friends and say, “Oh, shoot, they had corn bread? Why did I fill my plate with salad?”
The last talks finished about an hour ago, and I’m wiped out. You’d never think it would be hard work to sit and listen to people talk, but doing so for about 12 hours straight for 2 days, then another 8 hours today is really difficult. Currently, the poster session is going on outside, but I really just can’t think about science right now – I need a short break. There’s also a final dinner that will be on the special side. I think that most people are pretty much done with thinking for now, as they’re all at the open bar, leaving the posters mostly unmanned right now. The number of beers consumed per 10 minutes is significantly higher right now than the number of posters being discussed per 10 minutes.
Today was the hardest day to get through for me. Very few of the talks were relevant to my area of interest, and in fact a lot of them were using technologies and/or methodologies that I haven’t heard of before. That means that a lot of them started at a very high level of understanding and only got more confusing from there, effectively shutting me out of the conversation. I understand why they have to do this (they’re only given 30 minutes and they’re talking to a presumably expert audience), but it’s frustrating to be someone who has studied urchins for 3 years and feel like I can’t ever understand what’s going on in a talk.
Also, today’s talks seemed especially under-practiced. There were a lot of speakers that mumbled or talked exclusively to their slides without bothering to check if they were even facing the microphone. I know it’s really hard to make sure of little things like that during a talk, but I feel like goal number one is to make sure they can understand what you’re saying, and failing that, they should be able to understand what’s on your slide without having to hear what you’re saying. I will try to incorporate this advice into my talks in the future, because I know I have a tendency to adopt a strange, halting cadence when I give presentations, and I tend to low-talk when I’m nervous.