Pilsners, Posters, and Presentations

The past few days were a fantastic mix of talks, posters, and socializing. It was interesting to reflect on these aspects of the BPS conference and how they exposed me to a fresh mix of new ideas. The differences became evident when contrasting talks in the protein folding symposium to student posters from the same labs. The talks gave a flavor of higher level thinking behind the projects as well an overview of their findings, while discussions at the student’s poster provided a more nuanced description of the research with detailed insights. Fast forward to the evening, where socializing with other attendees provided a different flavor of conversation. It makes one wonder: which part of this conference was the best place to learn science?

Presentations. The presentation is the backbone of the scientific conference. BPS seminars are inherently more personal than other conferences (e.g. ACS). They offer an opportunity to learn how several projects within a lab fit into the PI’s larger vision. This vision within a good scientific story is hard to beat. However, as with all presentations, it’s restricted to a linear presentation of the data, so it can be difficult to parse out details if someone’s message isn’t straightforward. Beyond a limited range of questions, it can also be tough to ask more specific questions about someone’s work, especially if they challenge underlying assumptions. And any extended, personal conversations are out of the question.

Posters. Posters are where the action happens, providing the most diversity of scientific information. An immediate advantage over the seminar is the prolonged opportunity to discuss the details behind the experiments. This discussion ranges from experimental design to the roadblocks to publishing. Interactions are often one-on-one (or in small groups), making for a more personal experience. You can also digress into tangents tailored to your specific interests with questions that might be too detailed for the Q&A of a seminar. While the stories are still inherently linear, tangents arise at your leisure. This format offers a great balance between information content and interpersonal interactions.

Pilsners. On the interpersonal side, drinks with colleagues offer a great chance to catch up with old friends, and make new ones. They are a direct contribution to the low attendance at morning sessions. It’s where new collaborations are made and new frontiers are forged, with candid discussions of the human side of science. With experimental details and data lacking, it might not be your first place to learn new science, but it can provide a perspective you are unlikely to get elsewhere. Unclear scientific messages can still surface when socializing, but at least you’re having a drink.

Reflecting on these aspects of the BPS conference, I realized the magic mix of all three are what make it a fantastic experience. This combination is what will keep me coming back year after year, and hopefully through this blog as well. See you in 2018!

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