Friday, October 23, 2009

SfN 2009: Recap

As many neuro-bloggers have noted, it is very difficult to keep up a good blogging regime during SfN. With lectures, symposia, and poster sessions all day followed by social activities all night (we closed down a bar on more than one occasion), the conference is pretty relentless. I returned to Atlanta Wednesday night, and I've been trying to synthesize the rest of my conference experience. I also managed to keep up a running commentary about some SfN events on my Twitter account (when I could find wifi at the convention center), so check that out if you're interested in 140-character summaries.

Some highlights from the conference: The SfN tweet-up, where I met other dual science/internet nerds and dragged a bunch of my fellow Emory students along for the ride; a special lecture by Dr. Ben Barres during which he gave an extended sub-lecture about diversity in science (and referred to a previous talk, "Some Reflections on the Dearth of Women in Science," which I was lucky enough to attend last year); a special lecture by Dr. Eric Kandel, who literally wrote the book on neuroscience; several jam-packed symposia in Theme A; evening socials with free beer (I sort of crashed a party intended for University of Iowa students, who welcomed me with typical midwestern hospitality); discovering some extremely relevant posters in my field of research; networking with dozens of fellow scientists from around the world (we are totally Facebook/Twitter/etc. friends now!).

So what have I learned from my first major conference experience? The first major lesson came in conquering my tendency toward shyness. I found most of the people I met at the conference to be quite friendly, but it took me a while to get over my feelings of intimidation when approaching other scientists. This was especially true at the poster sessions, when I initially hesitated to ask questions or discuss someone else's work due to my lack of experience with the subject material. I got over this after a few days, and although a few people treated me in a dismissive manner, I had some really good conversations about other peoples' science. I also learned a lot by example, noticing which posters were easiest to understand and which speakers had the most professional attitudes when presenting.

The second lesson involved time management. With dozens of events happening each day, it's impossible to do everything. After a few days of struggling with the schedule, I decided that it was okay for me to hop from symposium to symposium, catching the short talks that were most interesting to me and then moving on to other things. I did always make a point to wait until each speaker finished his or her presentation before I left, though. I found it irritating when people would stand and walk out during the acknowledgments slide, before the speaker received their applause. I know we're all busy, but couldn't you wait another 30 seconds, in the name of politeness? I also tried to leave myself some flexible time for wandering around posters and vendors, taking a coffee break, or following a new acquaintance to a recommended event.

The third lesson: Pack a lunch. Convention center food is shamefully overpriced, unhealthy, and not particularly palatable.

It's good to be home. I'm giving lab meeting next week to share what I've learned from SfN (I was the only member of my lab to attend -- the rest of the students and postdocs are more geneticists and cell biologists than neuroscientists, and my PI was too busy with a study section to go to the conference). I found two really cool posters that dovetail nicely with our work, but I have a lot of background reading to do before I can put those results into the proper context.

Since returning to the lab, I've also noticed that SfN seems to have given my contact information to a bunch of vendors. Last month I didn't even have a department mailbox, and the first piece of mail I received at the lab contained my credentials for the meeting. This week I noticed a pile of catalogs, flyers, and other promotional materials. That was a little disheartening. I may keep some of the catalogs for my coffee table, though -- I'm sure non-scientist houseguests would be amused by the listings for various rodent mazes, which featured some very cute mice.

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