04 December 2014

A catalysis meeting on long term experimental evolution.

Travel makes it easy to let blog posts slip away without being fully formed, written, and posted. Now that the semester is winding down, I'm going to try and follow through with writing the backlog of posts that have been piling up from my adventures over the last few weeks. Today's report is about the first part of my trip back to NESCent and North Carolina the week before Thanksgiving.

The catalysis meeting I attended on long term experimental evolution (you can read a little more about the meeting and participants here) was not only fantastic but also the last NESCent will host (more on this in a later post). Although the topic is outside of my main research interests, I answered the solicitation to participate in this meeting because of some research I've been doing with Joe Graves, Michael Rose and colleagues on experimentally evolved Drosophila populations. Moreover, there seem to be some really interesting opportunities to explore robustness of analytical methods using experimental evolution data, which is of particular interest to me.

Here are the things I found compelling about this meeting:
  1. Meeting organizers set the tone. Rob Lanfear, the main organizer, put together a fantastic webpage and started a Mendeley group so we could share literature beforehand.
  2. The participants were diverse. Forty four percent of attendees were female. There were graduate students, postdocs, early career scientists, and senior researchers present, and folks came from all over the world. Model systems included microbes, invertebrates, fish and trees. 
  3. We capitalized on the group's diversity. As an early career scientist, I was pleased to develop relationships with a number of other folks starting faculty jobs at similar institutions. As a group, I was gratified to hear well-respected, senior scientists describing junior scientists' research as "brilliant." There were multiple types of interactions incorporated into the meetings such that folks who were hesitant to speak in full-group discussions could still contribute ideas. In short, this meeting exhibited many aspects of scientific discourse that are overlooked, but which I value deeply.
  4. Attendees were invested in the meeting itself. Part of the meeting was structured (or perhaps more accurately, unstructured) as an "unconference," with participants determining topics for talks and group discussions on the fly. Despite this free-form format, folks in this group were very interested in talking about broader research ideas, rather than pushing their own agendas.
I left the meeting with a much wider and deeper understanding of experimental evolution as an active field of research, as well as a better grasp on different ways of thinking about the process of science and its limitations. I was also grateful to participate in one last meeting of this type at NESCent...stay tuned for my next post to hear more about that!

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