The value of scientific meetings

Many of you readers might not realize that there are numerous annual conferences/meetings that scientists at many stages in their careers attend (undergraduate through retired). These meetings are organized by societies that also publish journals, such as the Society for the Study of Evolution or the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. People who attend usually present their research in the form of short (10-15 minute) talks or as a poster (which you stand in front of for 2 hours). I wrote briefly about my experience at the Evolution meeting in Ottawa in 2012, but I didn’t really explain the benefit of these meetings to researchers. Not only do you hear about what your colleagues are doing, you get to meet a bunch of new people and forge connections that will be useful later in your career. Additionally, presenting your data is a way to get feedback on your results and interpretations before going through the gauntlet of publishing your conclusions in a scientific  journal (a process that takes forever and is rather draining). Finally, it is an opportunity to be inspired by other peoples’ research and come up with new ideas for your own.

Last week I attended the 2014 conference of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. This is a really broad meeting, with talks ranging in topics from functional morphology to human impacts. I gave a talk and it went really well, which was great. There were also several very interesting symposia and a couple of interesting plenary talks (which are big talks that everyone is sort of expected to attend). One of those talks was about communicating science, and was given by a guy who was a tenured professor but who quit to go to film school. He proposed that scientists should try to communicate through a very simple structure: And, But, and Therefore. This is opposed to what he sees as an overwhelming tendency for us to just list off facts. Instead, we should say “This fact and this fact show this, but there’s this other problem, therefore I did this other thing.” This is an interesting framework that he’s set up, but it doesn’t seem all that novel to me. With this blog, I am trying to communicate science and demonstrate what scientists are really like, so I would like to be effective in my communication styles. 

Scientific communication is an important issue, and I think it’s very important that we scientists be effective communicators, not just to each other, but to everyone else who hasn’t had the same extensive, specified education that we’ve had. The funding we compete for is doled out by non-scientists, for the most part. This makes it imperative that non-scientists can understand our research, and even more essentially, the need for basic science research in general. So, I will try to incorporate the basic message of the plenary speaker’s message (if not his exact sentence structure), and would love feedback on how I’m doing in communicating science.

To end, here is a link to a bunch of photos of really cool, not well-known animals


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