I recently returned from the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting in Austin, TX. I have been a member of SICB since 2005 and have participated in all but two of its meetings since my first year of graduate school. I know that the vast majority of people reading this blog are regular participants in scientific meetings, but still, I would like to share the scientific meeting experience for a professor from a small, undergraduate-only university.
So much to do in four days.
First and foremost, I was there to disseminate my research. I was there to share my thoughts and findings with others, hoping that my work is interesting and helpful to others pursuing similar research questions. From that, I was also there to develop potential collaborations and hear about the work of others in my field, hoping, too, that I might find new ideas and inspiration from others. I met with existing collaborators and we discussed the current status of our research and future directions. I also chaired my session at this meeting, as I have at each of the last four SICB meetings.
While my students weren’t with me at this meeting, I was still there to support them (Let’s be serious, I also brag about them…a lot – but they’re worthy)! There were six undergraduates whose individual research projects were incorporated into my talk and each of them were coauthors. When I have students working in my lab who are interested in graduate studies in a non-human health field/professional school, I am always working to help them make connections and find potential advisors. When my students are with me at meetings, they obviously play an active role in that as well. When they are not at a meeting (typically because they are ‘too early’ in their research to be ready for a national meeting) I still am on the lookout for graduate advisors who may have opportunities for students who already have a great deal of training in lab, field, and statistical techniques.
I was there in service to the society. I was a best student poster judge. I also participated in a couple of meetings associated with the formation of a new division of SICB, about which I am very excited – Division of Ecoimmunology and Disease Ecology – and we made much progress in that area.
Another interesting dynamic at this meeting was that I had multiple conversations with peers about job searches and choosing which type of academic position to pursue. I obviously enjoy sharing what life is like at a university such as mine or I wouldn’t be writing this blog, but I also fully appreciate the qualities in other people that make them perfect for jobs that, in general, are quite different from mine.
During this meeting, I scrambled to find a good WiFi signal so I could work on my NSF pre-proposal. Because SICB is always January 3-7, there are MANY people there doing this exact thing. A commonly heard dialogue at these meetings: “Hey, want to grab lunch after this session?” “I can’t. I have to use my lunch break to work on my grant proposal.” Fortunately I am a co-PI on this year’s grant proposal with fellow Liberal Arts Ecologists blogger, Matt Venesky, who couldn’t make it to SICB this year, so he did the bulk of the work, leaving me with less time committed to searching for a good WiFi signal and more time committed to enjoying SICB (Thanks, Matt).
Why should anyone care about what I did at a meeting?
Overall, other than keeping an eye and an ear out for potential graduate advisors for my students rather than actively seeking graduate students as other professors may have been doing, I think my experience at a national scientific meeting is just like that of every member from every other type of university. The only time it is obvious that I am not from a large, graduate-degree granting university is when I meet new people and they’ve never heard of Millikin. That’s OK – I’m working on that: one skilled graduate student for their lab, one national meeting, one publication, and one grant at a time.
I hope everyone is off to a great start in 2014!