Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend INTECOL; the British Ecological Society’s 2013 International Annual Conference and a celebration of the BES 100 year anniversary…
These international conferences are held every four years by the BES, the three in between being national. This year’s was as big as they get, LOTS (need to check exactly how many) ecologists under one roof, potentially rather citified in style compared to what many of these field-loving scientists are used to. It was held at Excel in London, right next to The Docklands – the riverine entrance to the big smoke. Here we celebrated British and International ecological research in the ways scientists do best – learning and exchanging research via power point presentations, pints and poignant coffee breaks.
Due to the number of people attending, this exchange of valuable information and mutual appreciation happened at some pace. Over twenty talks were available at any one time, being presented on various themes every fifteen to thirty minutes. The talk of every ecological background imaginable, the IQ, the time committed, the hard-earned dollar invested, all in one location was difficult to take in. Perhaps the modelers who study entire ecosystems (sometimes multiple systems!) would find it easier to add it all together and grasp the conference in its entirety. Events like this can easily give people quite a rush of expectation, exhilaration and can generally take up a considerable amount of head-space (especially considering the thick programme and timetable we are given to digest).
I’d like to highlight some points that, for me, made the week such a renowned success. This is not to say that the conference was perfect, nor to everyone’s taste… Of course there will always be a time when you will sit down in a few talks and think “why am I here?… picked the wrong talk… should be in room x/y/z”, and you then go on to calculate at exactly what point in the short applause/questions/speaker change-over you hop and hot-foot it to said-identified room, joining a community of slow joggers that happen every fifteen/thirty minutes.
Elements that I particularly enjoyed and noted as beneficial include…
- The talks that had clear titles and sentence-summaries ; during these I knew I was in the right talk, which naturally led to me paying attention for the duration of that speaker talking.
- Talks that used case studies; even if a researcher’s work did not ever involve one particular species/community/real-life base of experiment or observation, I found an example of the speaker’s point based in a real-life situation was excellent at helping me understand and consequently remember the point and outcome of their project. This could come via…
- “I studied this population of shrews…” when that speaker actually had sat and studied shrews…
- “Imagine pencils in a box…” to describe a sampling process…
- “If there were 30 moonrats in space suits on Pluto…” rather like a math question in a year 5 text book…
The point is that physical examples gave the results a grounding and tangibility that, I think, makes it more likely a higher percentage of the audience will understand what you’re on about.
- A chance for everyone who wants to get involved to be able to; the range of interested people attending this conference spanned from
- volunteers (getting their lunches covered whilst helping out in sessions to be able to attend 50% of the conference at their leisure at no charge)…
through to students presenting posters, five minute talks, fifteen/thirty/forty-five minute presentations, heading up symposia topics and giving plenaries. A combination of good outreach, advertising and early bird prices makes this possible.
Independent specialist groups within BES and externals, such as INNGE, had time to represent themselves and talk further with an audience who wanted to be there. This ‘catches’ very clever and interesting people at a happy time, potentially a welcome far cry from final year UG/PG/PDoc scrambling together notes and ideas for some apparently-life-enslaving deadline (this is when, of course,
- no one understands you
- no one understands the situation
- no one could possibly have anything useful/important to say
- finally, you are not responsible for your actions if there is EVER no coffee).
- Cookies and coffee readily and frequently available. Academics to sugar and caffeine (when forced out of their office-caves/rooms where data comes to die) = ducks to water.
- A massive, very good party. This included such a range of ages, cultures, disciplines that all had a fantastic time– the evening was well designed, falling on to the foundation of yum food and unlimited drink.
Needless to say I look forward to attending other conferences and events by the BES soon. Keep an eye on INNGE and the UFS-BES scheme for events that everyone is welcome to – maybe see you there 🙂
Enjoy some fab pie this weekend,