Today’s post is by Dr. Staffan Lindgren, University of Northern British Columbia, and Second Vice-President of the Entomological Society of Canada.
I have just returned from the Entomological Society of America conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, and thought that this would make a suitable topic for my first ever blog. As I attended the ESC-ESA JAM the week before, it gives me a suitable reference point for evaluating the ESA meeting.
The ESA conference attracted ~3000 or so delegates, and consisted of numerous concurrent submitted sessions, over 100 symposia, and a sizeable poster session, with each set of 300+ posters available for viewing one day. In return for the $400 registration, you received a name tag, a program book, and some items encouraging you to attend the exhibition. If you were savvy and well connected, you could get some free snacks and drinks at one or several of the numerous university or ESA staff-specific mixers held more or less nightly (yes, I am savvy and relatively well connected). As a younger man, armed with enthusiasm, curiosity and at least a modicum of drive, I would identify all the talks relevant to my own research, and then run between sessions to catch them. Now I tend to pick a symposium or session and sit through it, as I find that I am more likely to get exposed to new and different ideas that way. When you have over 100 symposia over four days, however, it is near impossible to catch even a fraction of the sessions you wish to attend. I also like to browse the posters, rather than identify specific ones, but again – during a big meeting like ESA it is sometimes hard to get the time. It is extremely helpful when posters have 8×11 versions that you can take with you to read later, and you could scan QR codes with information on the posters (as well as sessions and exhibitors) into your smart phone/tablet if you were so inclined (I haven’t quite gotten there yet). I would think these approaches are the future when the techies replace us old traditionalists. The meeting also had virtual posters for non-North American students unable to attend the meeting, which was a neat idea (even if I didn’t get around to looking at them either)!
The location of a meeting is obviously important. Knoxville has a lot to offer, not least of which is the “body farm”, or the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center Research Facility. Tours were offered to the site, but I don’t have the stomach for it, so I went with some colleagues to the Smoky Mountains instead (we did look at hemlock woolly adelgid, so it was an entomological trip!) The layout of the meeting venue is extremely important, I realized. Ideally, the session rooms should be organized around a central area, so that attendees have a chance to interact. The Knoxville meeting was held at the conference center, the layout of which was not conducive to personal interaction, unfortunately. It consisted of a three-storey square building, with the meeting rooms in the middle surrounded by a walkway, and the exhibition hall in the basement. Consequently you could spend the entire meeting there and still not meet up with colleagues. I ran into two colleagues the evening of the last day I was there, and I failed to find one colleague I was actively looking for!
There are positives and negatives with every meeting, but when contrasting the Edmonton ESC meeting with the Knoxville ESA, or any other ESA meeting for that matter, I think ESC takes the prize both in terms of what you get for your registration fee, and ability to network with colleagues. The scientific program at the ESC meeting was of very high caliber as well, particularly the plenary session. Being small isn’t always a good thing, but when it comes to scientific conferences, I think it is a definite advantage. What do you think?