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!

Eccentric Essentials: the oddities of packing for a conference

Delta Airlines: It’s Time to Check In

Wait!? The flight for New Orleans is tomorrow?!

Receiving this email a day earlier than expected, I abandoned my plan to get some last nuggets of data for my talk rushed home to prepare for BPS New Orleans. Images of surviving a Gordon Conference with only one pair of underpants fresh in my mind (don’t worry, I hand washed them every night), I wanted to be fully prepared.

There is a lot of consensus for important items to bring for a conference (BPS has their own list here). Yet people still seem to forget the obvious. Yet again, I forgot business cards, someone else will forget their adaptor. However, when learning about unusual items attendees make a point to include in conference preparation, I found two overarching categories: leveling up the fun or managing the nonideal conditions of conference life.

Leveling up the fun. As a graduate student or postdoc, we are still building our networks while having a good time. Perhaps it’s not surprising that several supplementary items center around drinking. A newly minted PhD who transitioned to industry mentioned that she always brings shot glasses (several of them). And she does an excellent job of keeping them full. This is also an economical way to socialize, since bars can be expensive. The morning after a night out, another industry scientist brings eye drops to remove the booze-induced redness common in early morning sessions. Now this is a good time to point out that drinking isn’t required for socializing. My personal favorite response came from an astronomy enthusiast who always brings his telescope to conferences (especially those with low light pollution). You can actually see Saturn’s rings, and it’s a great chance to do so while making new friends.

Managing conference life. Long days, extended periods of extroversion, and unhealthy food options makes conference life taxing. Especially for those who enjoy daily routines. Workout clothes were common in addressing these challenges. Taking breaks to exercise has unambiguously positive impacts on cognitive function and also presents an opportunity to have quality time with other attendees. Along these lines, one labmate of mine only wears comfortable shoes, regardless of style. Another, focuses on style, but brings band aids. I also add in supplements to compensate for lifestyle and dietary deficiencies. Before bed, my personal favorites are 5-hydroxytryptophan and magnesium glycinate. I am always well rested, even after a long day and a longer night. For the mornings, I bring a dozen or so hard boiled eggs with some avocado, and enjoy this food with a mixture of pu-erh, yerba, and ginger/turmeric tea. I’m happy to discuss more about the rationale behind these choices, but those curious can start by entering Tim Ferriss Titanium Tea in Google. Several attendees mentioned Vitamin B12 (for energy) and some combination of zinc and Vitamin C (for immune support). The latter of these is reminiscent of that attendee who didn’t wash their hands and proceeds to work the poster session. Don’t be that person.

Is there anything special you bring to a conference, especially to have more fun or handle the conference lifestyle? Anything big you forgot? Share more in the comments below or message me directly on Twitter @dnbunck.