Armed with USB stick or poster tube, our first conference typically leaves some clear imprints on our psyche.
My first was the ESA 2007 in San Jose, California. I remember being stunned by its scale, rambling across vast swathes of conference center real estate. Where the Great Names of the field were speaking, it was standing- or leaning-through-doors-room only.
Hurrying from one session to another, I passed groups of academics (young and established) deep in animated conversation. Conference attendance evokes images of precisely these enlightening discussions; acquaintances forging bold new research agendas in the fire of the conference center lobby.
But not for me: I was young and on my own. I continued on my way to listen to yet another talk on something or other.
The great benefit of conferences is the coming together of diverse talents, but this also poses substantial barriers for first-time attendees. How did all of these people meet? How did they all end up in such tight groups having such a great time? How do I get myself into one of them?
The British Ecological Society (BES) has long run events to help Next-Generation Ecologists “advance ecology and make it count”. At the 2011 annual meeting in Sheffield, the BES is expanding a scheme piloted last year: free drinks and an opportunity to meet other researchers early in their careers. The unlocking your potential evening event on Day 1 (pdf) will be an opportunity to meet like-minded, early-career people to facilitate networking, collaboration and friendship.
Established names (James Bullock, Rob Freckleton, Georgina Mace, Hazel Norman and Diana Wall) will be removed from their celebrated positions at lecterns to take your questions on all things ecological, career and potential. At last year’s pilot, Charles Godfray and Illka Hanski told shared tales of escapades (research, and otherwise) from the early stages of their careers. Those stories were like those many of us have, and spoke of the bonds of friendship and collaboration formed decades ago.
While the BES runs many early-career schemes (from fellowships that bring undergraduates to the annual meeting to “how to …” sessions including in 2011 “from research paper to press release”), the real benefits of having everyone in the same location come from face-to-face interaction.
It is those benefits that encourage us to meetings and conferences; it is those benefits that really leave a mark on our psyche and it is those benefits the BES is particularly keen to facilitate at the 2011 annual meeting.
by Dr Thomas H.G. Ezard, British Ecological Society