Afternoon Inquisition

Sunday AI: professional meetings

I’m in Reno right now, attending the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America.  It is the largest insect meeting in the world. Usually about 3000 insect scientists of all kinds attend, from every continent except Antarctica.

Unfortunately, it’s not anything like a science fiction convention. There are a lot of suits, and it’s a time to make professional networking connections and present your research. There are organized symposia about some topics I’m really interested in–the way in which media has covered Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees, for example.  Many, many presentations about bed bugs.
It’s also a great time to hang out, talk to old friends, and commune with bug people.

Titles of talks or papers usually have formal names like “Update on medical consequences of bed bug biting,” although sometimes you get a bit more humor; I liked this one: “To Baetidae or not to Baetidae: comprehensive phylogeny of baeitid mayflies.”  

Talks start at 8:00 AM and run until 9:00 PM at night. For 4 days.  By the end you just feel like your brain is swollen.  While a lot of scientific meetings are similar, each flavor of scientific meeting is a little different.

I have no idea what big meetings are like for other professions though–please tell me!  What kind of major meetings do you go to for your job? Is it fun?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. I find them frustrating. I wish there was less time allocated to presentations, and more time to discussion and socialising. I don’t have to fly half way around the world to listen to someone give a presentation, of work that is more thoroughly presented in a paper (which I can read at my own pace, and look up associated references). What I really want to do is have a discussion, and ask questions. Which is why, I prefer smaller workshop like meetings.

    It is frustrating because meeting others in your field is wonderful, and often you get a lot of new ideas. I just wish we used out time more productively.

    On a smaller note, I also find them very wasteful. Stop giving me gimmicky flasks and bags. Just a discount on the conference fees please.

  2. That’s about the same size as the American Astronomical Society meeting every January. It is overwhelming and exciting, and sleep is usually optional. Big meetings like that are good for networking, especially when on the job market, but the time allotted for science talks is frustratingly short… Just 5 minutes each. I think they try and pack too much in with those, and much prefer a poster where you can confers with people as much as you’d like.

    Also, I don’t think we have very many suits at ours.

  3. I just returned from a four day professional conference in Florida called the Southeastern Archaeology Conference. It includes numerous symposia organized around particular topics, with each paper lasting twenty minutes. Archaeologists are not great at formality, so most people dress comfortably and as much of the exchange of ideas happens at the bar as it does at the talks.

    The poster sessions, in which I participated this year, last four hours and are often as involved as the papers. I would say about 500 archaeologists made it to this meeting, give or take.

    There are always events in the evening, including the reception that is usually held at a nearby museum which includes lots of beer, snacks, a place to taste different people’s home brews, and a lot of hob-nobbing. Many of us went on an organized tour an archaeological site, with barbecue and beers afterward at a nearby park.

    Archaeology conferences are always entertaining, even if some of the papers will put you to sleep.

  4. I attend two different types of conferences with my work as I do research ethics in the field of HIV so I attend ethics conferences and HIV/Infectious Disease conferences.

    Gotta say, the HIV conferences are way more fun, first, because I know more people and have been in the field longer (20 years) and second, I think we have more fun because in the 80’s and 90’s we were all just trying so hard to survive and help our patients/subjects survive we just had so many funky coping mechanisms.

  5. The professional meeting I just attended had 30 attendees, of whom 20 gave talks, over 2 days. That is the sort of meeting I like. I’m following up on a line of research that was suggested by a question at the end of my talk. (It turns out my ‘distance’ does not obey the triangle inequality, but as this is true of lots of other popular distance formulae in my field, it isn’t as bad as it sounds.)

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