27 June 2014

Con drop and lessons learned from Evolution/iEvoBio 2014

I'm in the midst of processing the aftermath of seven very full days of scientific conference. After almost twelve hours of sleep, I'm feeling a bit of a science hangover.  It occurs to me that this post-conference experience is not unprecedented or unfamiliar. Con drop is pretty well documented by other attendees of a variety of conferences and conventions (look here and here for a few examples), and is generally related to the let-down accompanying the return to real life following submersion in a large group of like-minded people. I don't recall seeing much discussion about post-science con drop, but it makes sense. Especially this year: I was on my home turf, seeing lots of folks I already knew and meeting lots of new people, all of us exuberant on the fumes of scientific progress. In the days following Evolution, I found myself relieved at the relaxation of my scheduled obligations but simultaneously bereft. As I slowly return to "real life," I decided to note a few of the big take-home lessons from Evolution 2014 and iEvoBio. A few other folks have written similar posts (I particularly like Rob's lessons and Jeremy Yoder's tweet synopsis).

First, my time limit for conference science-ing is six hours. I do a passable job of stifling my introverted nature for a time, but it means I need to pace myself. If I do a full morning of talks and lunch meeting, I'll have to take a break mid-afternoon and spend some time along. I'm really glad I have a tangible, quantifiable amount of time that seems to be consistently manageable for me…makes planning easier next time!

Second, I participated in two informal lunch-time gatherings: one tweet-up and one LGBTQ meeting. We tried two different models for these. For the first, we met at the registration desk and wandered elsewhere to find lunch. For the second, we had a lunchtime venue planned. Neither seemed satisfactory, as finding a place for 15+ people to eat is difficult, regardless of the amount of planning involved. I'm thinking about better ways to achieve future meetings, such as contacting conference organizers to have a room assigned. I don't know if I want to manage a formal discussion like the one I attended for AWIS at Evolution, but I like the idea of providing a venue to facilitate interactions between groups of likeminded people.

Of course, there are plenty of other things I'd like to break down in more detail, but fomenting ideas about these main topics seems sufficient navel-gazing for now.

20 June 2014

Decreasing conference awkwardness.

If we're very honest with ourselves, we'll likely agree that academics, particularly scientists, are quite an awkward bunch. Put a few thousand of us together in an unfamiliar environment, and we spend lots of time searching for people we know (or need to know) amidst a sea of quasi-familiar faces, trying to promote our science, while simultaneously attempting to keep track of our laptops, phones, conference programs, bags, etc.

I've been thinking about ways to alleviate the unpleasantness while maximizing the fun. It's kind of ironic for me to give advice like this, given my own tendency towards awkward, but if it works for me…?

  1. Don't be afraid to take a look at someone's name tag/affiliation, and even to let them know you're doing so. At a conference with hundreds/thousands of people, it's normal to need a moment to recognize everyone! There are even some folks with face blindness or who otherwise struggle to place faces in the absence of names. There will be a few folks who will act like jerks because you don't know them, but you don't really want to be their friend anyway, eh?
  2. Addendum to #1: Don't let your name tag hang on your stomach. Tie a knot in the string holding it so it's closer to your face. This is especially important for short people (so tall folks don't have to bend over) and women (because boobs).
  3. Second addendum to #1: Add your twitter username to your name tag. Some conferences (like ScienceOnline) do this for you. You might be surprised how many folks recognize you for your twitter handle (for me, @k8hert) but not necessarily your name (Kate Hertweck).
  4. Extension of #3: Make it easier for folks to talk to you about your poster or talk. My first (title) and last (acknowledgement) slides of my talks include my twitter handle, Google+, blog address, and Slideshare address. I decided recently to include my twitter handle in a footer at the bottom of every slide (with my name, affiliation, and short title), in case people want to tweet mid-talk. Post your talk or poster online (like at Slideshare) and tell the audience…way easier than expecting someone to take notes instead of listening, or printing off small copies of a poster.
  5. I depend on my resealable travel coffee mug, because I'm really good at accidentally spilling things but like having water/coffee with me (someone already knocked over a cup of water in front of me yesterday in the morning sessions). Evolution this year told us ahead of time we're all getting water bottles, which helps you plan when packing!
  6. I also adore my external rechargeable cell phone battery. I like tweeting at meetings and can also take notes on my phone, and this gadget sure beats trying to find an available outlet. I've been seeing them at big-box stores for $10.
  7. Of course, here's my obligatory note that I'd be quite lost without twitter. There's no better way to find people, events or information. I know some folks who use it as their conference notes.
For a few more of my favorite conference tips, see my post from last year. Anybody else have ideas?

Some folks from Twitter had great ideas:

That reminded me of another of my tricks: I keep business cards face-out behind my name tag. I always forget to give them out, and it helps to have a few handy.

18 June 2014

Planning for Evolution 2014

Now that I've spent some serious time going through the Evolution 2014 program and trying to plan my daily schedule, I find I'm completely exhausted and ready for a mental break. I'm not even sure why I bothered putting together a list of fun bars in downtown Raleigh, since I can't imagine any of us being awake long enough to partake of any area establishments.

Top items on my agenda for this meeting include:

  1. Phylogenomics Symposium and Software School (Thursday and Friday), because learning new analytical methods is FUN!
  2. Chairing a session on Life History Evolution (Saturday morning, 8:15-10, Rm 303), during which my talk will take place (Jumping genes and life history: De novo transposable element insertions respond to selection for accelerated and delayed development times, 9:30 am). I'll have my slides up on Slideshare that morning.
  3. I'm mentoring two students as a part of the Undergraduate Diversity program (co-sponsored by NESCent).
  4. A few short meetings of various levels of formality, including one discussing implicit bias, another for LGBTQ folks, and some from the NSF.
  5. NESCent's Evolution Film Festival!
  6. Attending the usual set of poster sessions, keynote addresses, lightning talks, receptions, etc.
  7. iEvoBio, to round out my informatics geekery.
I realized today that I've committed myself to seven straight days of evolution thinking and learning. That's A LOT of brain juice. I'm going to be focusing a lot on remembering my list of ways to strategize and manage these huge, marathon-style conferences. I've tried to communicate to my partner the amount of time and energy attending these conferences requires. The conversation went something like this: 
Me: I'll be busy doing conference stuff from Thursday to Wednesday.
Him: OK! Want me to make you breakfast and plan dinners?
Me: Um, I have events scheduled from eight to ten most days. I can grab food for myself, but thank you.
Him: Ten…at night
When he said it like that, I started to wonder if it was a little crazy, too. Ah, professional meetings….

11 June 2014

Want someplace to go at Evolution 2014 after regularly scheduled events? Check out my map of downtown Raleigh!

After attending a few large professional conferences, you start to realize that some of the best ideas happen after the scheduled events of the meeting, when folks head off to restaurants and bars to socialize into the wee hours of the morning. I also know how challenging it can be to find someplace suitable when you're just a visitor in a city. The Evolution 2014 website does a great job of highlighting  local restaurants for during the day, but I thought it would be nice to have a reference for late-night socializing (which may or may not include drinking some of the wonderful local beer North Carolina has to offer).

Luckily, I've lived in the RDU area long enough to be able to recommend a few places. I compiled these locations in a handy google map (color-coded red), including the location of the conference center (black), conference housing (yellow), and NESCent/area universities (for reference, in green). I put a screenshot below, but click on the link and you can select each marker for the website (hours, events, etc) as well as a way to estimate distance from wherever you are. I included a variety of establishments: bars with good food, dive bars, LGBTQ-friendly places, and even a basement whiskey bar. If you know the area and want someplace added, drop me a note! Finally, and I hope this is obvious: this resource is in no way endorsed by the conference or NESCent…it's just my attempt to help make your trip a little more fun and relaxing.

Downtown Raleigh after hours