Tag Archives: conferences

Is there a dress code for scientists?

Dresscode 1

A couple of weeks ago, Mathew Partridge*, who writes at Errant Science posted a blog about what to wear at an academic conference.

Dresscode 2I tweeted the link to his post, adding that I was one of the scruffy (comfortable) ones. This generated a few comments, the more thoughtful of which suggested that what to wear at a conference might be affected by more than comfort and one of my female Tweeps made a very good point about not adopting a too simplistic viewpoint to the matter.

Dresscode 3

 

It was not necessarily all down to feeling comfortable, different rules may apply to different people. Amy Parachnowitsch over at Small Pond Science, has also written about this apparent dichotomy between male and female scientists’ approach to conference wear.

As I sat down to write this I logged on to Twitter to find the conversation shown above and came face to face with this photograph from the then curator of BioTweeps, zoologist, Dan Sankey who tweets as @inspiredanimals, which reinforces the stereotypic male academic ‘scruff factor’.

Dresscode 4

Dan Sankey from Swansea University**, Biotweeps Curator July 11th – July 15th 2017

Part of my teaching involves a lecture to the MSc students about how to give a good talk, be it a job interview, a conference or as part of an outreach programme. As well as the usual tips about content and delivery, I also cover dress and ask “Is there a dress code?” The answer to which of course, is “yes and no, it depends”.   So what do I mean by this?  The secret to giving a good talk, leaving aside having good content and being well prepared, which gives you the confidence to stand in front of an audience, is to feel comfortable in yourself.  I am firmly convinced that unless you feel comfortable, your talk will not be as good as it could be.  There are two aspects to feeling comfortable, one is knowing your stuff and feeling that you can handle any questions that might be put to you.  The other is feeling that you are relaxed (as much as you can be when standing in front of an audience) and comfortable in yourself.  I firmly believe that as people, we should be accepting and not judge people by appearances, but rather on who they are inside.  Yes, I know this is difficult, because as humans, we all have some prejudices***, no matter how hard we try to overcome them.  As scientists, we should be even less swayed by appearances as we are trained to look at data impartially.

I mentioned in my original Tweet about the Errant Science post, that I was a comfortable scruff. I have always been somewhat cavalier about my dress and general appearance, even as a school

Dresscode 5

Dressing not to impress, age 2, 8 and 18

I may have been lucky that I was a product of the 1960s and ‘70s when conformity was not the ‘in-thing’. I had long-hair until I was in my mid-thirties, despite working for the less than progressive Forestry Commission for ten years. I never found that my judgement as to the identity of a pest

Dresscode 6

The long-haired undergraduate morphed into an equally long-haired research scientist

problem or ability to lead a research project was questioned by the foresters in the field or the Forestry Commission higher-ups, although my refusal to wear a tie or have my hair cut may have had something to do with not being put in charge of the entomology section on the retirement of my immediate boss 🙂

When I was being interviewed for academic jobs, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. I was not just out of a post-doc or graduate school. I was an established scientist and was being interviewed by panels including people I knew quite well, who had seen me at conferences and knew how I dressed in a professional setting, in my case, jeans, shirt-sleeves and desert boots.  So, if I turned up for an interview in a suit (I don’t own one) and tie, they would know that I was pretending to be something I certainly wasn’t.  On the other hand, if I turned up in blue jeans and shirt-sleeves, they might assume that I wasn’t taking it seriously.  I thus compromised but salved my conscience at the same time; I wore black jeans, a new pair of desert boots and a crew-neck sweater, that way the panel could assume I was wearing a tie and if they didn’t look too closely, that I was wearing proper trousers and not jeans.

On becoming a university academic and having kids in school, I did get my hair cut, although my dress style remained stubbornly, desert boots, shirt sleeves, jeans and corduroy jacket. I must confess that in my first term of teaching, I did wear chinos, but soon reverted to jeans as I just did not feel comfortable.

Dresscode 7

The New academic, short-lived chinos and shortish hair.

But I digress, back to being comfortable and giving a talk. I tell my students that the dress code is up to them. How comfortable do they feel? If they feel that the expectation of the audience or interview panel is that they should be dressed more formally than their every-day dress, then they, as the interviewee, will feel more comfortable and more confident if they make some compromise in that direction. As a prospective employer or supervisor, it doesn’t make a difference either way as I hope that I always judge by qualifications and ability and not by appearance. As a presenter at a conference or as advisor on a government committee, I always assume that I have been asked along for my expertise and not for my fashion sense so even for my inaugural lecture I adopted my usual relaxed style.

Dresscode 8

My inaugural lecture – sans tie

I freely admit that I am somewhat privileged, I am white, male, older than a lot of people and a senior academic, I am at that place in my career, where I can, if I wanted to, pretty much ignore convention, but there are certain situations where that would make me and my audience feel uncomfortable or discombobulated. There are thus occasions when I do wear a tie, some are one-offs, such as my eldest daughter’s wedding (she hired a suit for me and her brothers) and when we launched the Centre for Integrated Pest Management at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Dresscode 9

Suited and booted for my daughter’s wedding and wearing a tie in Brussels

Although I firmly believe that I do not judge conference presenters and attendees by their appearance, there are obviously people out there who do and apparently, as shown above and below, female scientists**** feel that they are judged in this way.

Dresscode 10

As someone who is happily married to a lady who eschews make-up and revels in her natural highlights (she is going grey) I am perfectly at ease with the concept of dressing to please yourself and not the audience. On the other hand I do not think that a presenter who dresses more formally for their talk, than when listening to others talk, should be looked down upon or indeed judged in any way.  If that makes them feel more comfortable, then that is their choice.  And if you are unsure about what your prospective employer or audience expect, being smart rather than scruffy is to err on the safe side.  I would like to think that male ecologists and entomologists have similar views to me, but perhaps we should be asking ourselves, why it is that female scientists in particular, feel that they are being judged by how they look and if it is caused by male bias and/or female peer pressure.   I suspect that it is a bit of both, but welcome all comments.

 

Post script

I have to confess that there are annual occasions when I also wear a tie. I always wear a tie and shiny black trousers and shiny shoes for the annual graduation ceremony. The tie helps the medieval dress stay in place and it is not my day, it is the student’s and their family’s day and they expect something a bit special, so feeling uncomfortable for a few hours is a small price to pay. The other

Dresscode 11

Very formal dress and ‘smart casual’ for the Verrall Supper. The drink helps.

annual outing of the tie is the Verrall Supper of which I have written on more than one occasion.  For many years I boycotted this event as the invitation specified lounge suit, something I refused to own let alone wear.  I finally accepted the invitation but did not wear a suit, although I did compromise and wore shiny shoes and proper trousers and the obligatory tie.  Now that I am the Verrall Supper organiser, the dress code is smart casual, whatever that means, and I turn a blind eye to those younger than myself who turn up in jeans J

 

*you can also find him on Twitter @MCeeP

**for those of you not familiar with the Swansea University campus, it is almost on the beach.

***in my case, I find tattoos and other examples of self-mutilation, e.g. body piercings (including ear rings), cosmetic surgery, high heels, and even hair dying, very hard to understand, but I hope I do not let it interfere with my judgement of the quality or worth of the work of that person as a scientist or a human being.

****and possibly those from other disciplines too, but I have no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.

 

11 Comments

Filed under The Bloggy Blog, Uncategorized

Mee(a)ting Issues with the British Ecological Society – Why I boycotted the 2015 Annual Meeting

Normally at this time of year I would be recovering from the enjoyable after-effects of the British Ecological Society (BES) annual meeting, too much talking, too much eating, too much coffee, too much beer and wine and not enough sleep.

This year however, I denied myself the traditional end to the academic year as I decided to boycott the meeting. As someone who has, since 1977, missed only a handful of meetings, this was a big personal sacrifice, but I felt very strongly that I needed to make a protest , hence the one person boycott! So what prompted this action?

I was fully intending on attending the meeting in Edinburgh, having spent ten years living in Peebles and working at the Forest Research Station at Roslin, Edinburgh is full of pleasant memories for me. I logged on to the site to register for the meeting and was stunned and annoyed to come across this statement:

Food Policy In an effort to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the BES has decided to remove all farmed ruminant meat from its catering. Ruminants and their farming are key producers of methane. We run several large events a year, serving thousands of meals to participants and are keenly aware of the impact of human activity on natural systems. We will continue to cater for non-vegetarians, but will remove farmed ruminant meat from menus and will also only serve MSC certified fish. We take seriously our commitment to greening our events and hope you understand and support our decision. For more information on the background to this decision, read the paper by Ripple, W.J. et al: Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. – See more at: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/current_future_meetings/2016-annual-symposium/registration/#sthash.WioDx4lA.dpuf

Two things about this statement really got my goat (ruminant pun intended) – first, the non-democratic nature of this decision, the membership were never polled about this and second, the patronising and insulting statement, “We will continue to cater for non-vegetarians” This is tantamount to the comments by the vegan Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Kerry McArthy who suggested that meat eaters should be treated like smokers. As ecologists, and presumably all scientists with some biological background, the people running the BES know that we are omnivores by nature, look at our dentition and gut structure folks!

Meat Fig 1

 

I would also point out that the UK dairy herd is bigger (1.9 million) than the beef herd (1.5 million) and that you can’t have one without the other. The UK is the world’s tenth largest producer of milk (2.2%). So why not ban all dairy products and make delegates drink their tea and coffee black or with a vegetable based milk substitute? What about ruminant derived products? Whilst we are about it, how about penalizing delegates wearing wooly jumpers, leather shoes, leather belts and carrying their cash in leather wallets, purses and handbags?

I raised my concerns via Twitter and Facebook and did have a minor discussion with Andrew Beckerman, the chair of the Meetings Committee, but to no real satisfaction. I pointed out that why should people who enjoy beef and lamb be singled out, when those BES members who fly and drive everywhere were not targeted? I made the decision many years ago that I would not fly if at all possible, basically unless work dictated it, and as a result have flown (including return flights) only six times in the last twenty years. I recycle obsessively and my foreign travel is by train, ferry or Skype! So yes, tropical field work and international conferences on the other side of the world are a thing of the past, but I see no need for flying visits by western ecologists to indulge in brief exotic field work. Either go for the duration of the study or stay at home and discover the wonders of your own back yard, or rather than be an ecological imperialist, trust the local scientists to collect the data for you to number crunch. Or if you feel that your presence is indispensable, then go by ship and take the opportunity to write and read papers on the way 🙂

Although Ripple et al (2014) make a convincing case for slowing down greenhouse gas emissions by reducing ruminant production they do so from the highly biased minority viewpoint of those with “ecological privilege” (Nevins, 2014). They thus singularly fail to address the equally effective and more attainable actions that can be made by targeting travel, especially by air and private motoring Girod et al., 2012). There are over 100,000 flights a day and air travel is set to double by the year 2050 despite the fact that fossil fuels (oil at any rate) will run out in about 40-50 years (the former estimate according to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the latter by BP). One might ask then why do we have politicians wanting to build more airports and runways? As an ecologist this does not compute, but then looking at how many of my colleagues boast about their cheap flights compared with my more expensive rail trips, perhaps it does. As Nevins (2014) points out, a privileged few enjoy the ability to travel quickly and comfortably (although I would dispute the comfortably) around the world to conferences and field sites and this has a very significant effect on carbon emissions. Nevins calculated the carbon emissions generated by the Association of American Geographers to attend their 2011 meeting in Seattle as 5,352 metric tons, pointing out that the annual total per capita carbon emissions from energy consumption in Haiti is 210 kg and for Bangladesh 290 Kg, i.e. the air travel alone to and from the Seattle conference per delegate was more about three times the total annual emissions of an average Haitian or Bangladeshi which by any standard is unbalanced and profligate. Whilst other travel forms are amenable to very large future reductions in carbon emissions by improvements in technology, the evidence is that air travel will prove intractable and that the only feasible way forward is to drastically reduce flights made (Girod et al., 2012, 2013). Given that only 2-3% of the world’s population flies internationally (Peeters et al., 2006), this would seem a realistic aim and cause less harm to livelihoods and ways of life of people in less developed nations (note that 31 % of the global cattle herd are found in India, compared with 0.35% in the UK – Table 1). Unfortunately, although many of this wealthy airborne 2-3% are keen to embrace ‘light green habits’ such as home recycling and composting, they are the most likely to indulge in long distance flights and not want to be denied the ‘privilege’ of flying (Barr et al., 2010).

I don’t think that it is in the BES’s remit to impose life style choices on its membership by banning particular food groups. If the BES directorate want to make an environmental point using food as an example, then perhaps they should concentrate on food miles instead and serve locally sourced meat and seasonal vegetables. Delegates at the Edinburgh meeting could then have enjoyed the excellent Scottish beef that is available served with ‘tatties and neeps’ and perhaps also have experienced that particularly Scottish delicacy, the Scotch pie 🙂

Meat Fig 2

I do hope that the BES will reconsider their food policy as I would hate to have to miss any of the many excellent meetings scheduled for 2016.

References

Barr, S., Shaw, G., Coles, T. & Prillwitz, J. (2010) “A holiday is a holiday”: Practicing sustainability, home and away. Journal of Transport Geography, 18, 474-481.

Girod, B., van Vuuren, D.P. & Detman, S. (2012) Global travel within the 2oC climate target. Energy Policy, 45, 152-166.

Girod, B., van Vuuren, D.P. & Hertwich, E.G. (2013) Global climate targets and future consumption level: an evaluation of the required GHG intensity. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 014016.

Nevins, J. (2014) Academic jet-setting in a time of climate destabilization: ecological privilege and professional geographic travel.   The Professional Geographer, 66, 298-310.

Peeters, P., Gössling, S. & Becken, S. (2006) Innovation towards tourism sustainability: Climate change and aviation. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 1, 184-200

Ripple, W.J., Smith, P., Haberl, H., Montzka, S.A., McAlpine, C. & Boucher, D.H. (2014) Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. Nature Climate Change, 4, 2-5.

 

Post script

Some meaty facts for the British Ecological Society to ruminate upon.

Meat Fig 3

The global cattle herd peaked in 1990 and has been declining, albeit gradually, ever since.

Meat Fig 4

There are approximately 1 billion sheep in the world, of which 187,000,000 (18%) are in China; in the UK there are 22,900,000. There are 674,000,000 goats in the world, most of which are in the tropics.

Post post script

Annual UK total GHG  emissions from meat eating are 17,052,000 metric tonnes per year, CO2 emissions alone from cars is 164,500,000, almost ten times more and aviation not far behind agriculture.

UK emissions

Post post post script

Here is a link to a paper that suggests increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions, at least in Brazil – http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2916.html

32 Comments

Filed under Bugbears, Uncategorized

Why I Joined the Twitterati: Blogs, Tweets & Talks – Making Entomology Visible

It is now thirteen months since I tweeted my first tweet and almost a year since my blog went public.  It is thus an opportune moment I feel to assess how this first year has gone and to see if I can convert other oldies and not so oldies to make that leap into the world of public social media.  For many years I had held the whole concept of social media in contempt – Facebook and Twitter for me, represented the very epitome of mindless gossip and tabloid extremism.  I saw them as entirely the domain of the chattering classes and the idle young.  Perhaps an extreme view, since some of my children, a number of my colleagues, my wife and even my mother-in-law were on Facebook. Still, as someone who did not get a mobile phone until March this year (and only because of the fact that during the week, I live alone, and my wife feels that it is a sensible thing to have in case of emergency), I guess I was just living up the image of the techno-refusenik.

That said, I have always felt that the job of a scientist is to communicate and having always had a desire to teach and pass on my enthusiasm for entomology to others, I have not been remiss in coming forward.  I did actually have a fling with public engagement way back in 1981 when I worked in Finland and developed their early warning system for cereal aphids.  My research actually appeared in the Finnish national farmer’s magazine almost simultaneously with my official scientific publication.

Kaytannon Maamies   Front page Leather & Lehti

My subsequent career as first a forest entomologist with the Forestry Commission and then as a university teacher at Imperial College, was pretty much that of the typical academic, with the occasional appearance on the radio and the rare television interview, plus the odd reference to my work in the national or local newspapers.

Powe of Bugs

Mainly however, I was, until about the turn of the century just communicating with my peers i.e. publishing scientific papers and facilitating communication between other entomologists; I seem to have spent the last twenty years or so editing journals, first cutting my teeth on the Royal Entomological Society’s house journal Antenna, and then moving on to Ecological Entomology and for the last seven years as Editor-in-Chief of Insect Conservation & Diversity.  So there I was facilitating the dissemination of entomological knowledge around the world and busy doing my own entomological research and training future entomologists by running the only entomology degree in the UK and also of course supervising lots of PhD students. All very commendable indeed, but perhaps a bit limited in scope…

Limited scope

Round about the turn of the century I started to get really fed up with the ignorance shown about entomology and the bias towards vertebrates by funding bodies and journals.   I started going into schools and giving talks to the public whenever possible trying to draw people’s attention to the importance of insects..

Small and local

And getting more and more provocative..

Death to polar bears

And getting more and more irritated and desperate in print..

Publishing

It was obvious that there was a problem; the misconception that the public tend to have in that all insects are either pests or things that sting or bite them and need to be stamped on (Leather & Quicke, 2009:  http://www.harper-adams.ac.uk/staff/profile/files/uploaded/Leather_&_Quicke_2009_JBE.pdf ).  Some of the entomological misconceptions were amusing but being entomologically pedantic still wrong..

Funny but wrong

others which were annoying but perhaps excusable..

Top trumps   Top trumps2

and some which were just plain inexcusable..

No Excuse

The problem has been neatly summed up by others too..

Ignorance

One of my PhD students, Fran Sconce, whom I have known since she was an undergraduate…

Fran graduation

had for some time been extolling the virtues of social media as a means of scientific communication,

Fran Twitter

finally convinced me that it was time to make a leap and to move into a different environment.

Leap

and thus was born @Entoprof

Entoprof

and Don’t Forget the Roundabouts

Blog header

So like a fellow ex-Silwoodian, Natalie Cooper who recently reported on her first year as a blogger/tweeter http://www.ecoevoblog.com/2013/10/29/to-tweet-or-not-to-tweet-that-is-the-question/ I too feel the need to assess how this first year has gone.

Well, first I found that there were lots of old friends out there, and even my old school started following me….

Old friends

A ton of ex-students, not all of whom are entomologists…

ex-students

Increased opportunities for outreach and meeting people I didn’t even know existed..

Outreach

And making new professional links….

Professional links

And incidentally as an Editor I have found new people to ask to act as reviewers and I’ve had great fun continuing my fight against institutional vertebratism …

Vertebrate bias

and got a great result which I am certain I wouldn’t have got without Twitter..

result

With my new friends I entered into public debate..

public debate

and got another result which again would not have happened without Twitter..

BBC Wildlife

and found a new way to interact at conferences..

conference interactions

and been really inspired.  I have thoroughly embraced the concept of social media and have now set up a Twitter account for the Entomology MSc http://www.harper-adams.ac.uk/postgraduate/201004/entomology  I run..

MSc Entomology

and also a Blog for them to run http://aphidsrus.wordpress.com/

Ento blog

My latest venture with the aid of

Janine

is the A-Z of Entomology, the first letter of which you can view here if you want to learn about aphids  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liBt59teaGQ

So yes it has been a great year and a heartfelt thank you to all my Tweeps and to all of you that follow my blog.  I really have found this both useful and educational.  It has been a great eye-opener.  And of course a really big vote of thanks to Fran for finally convincing me that I should join the Twitterati.

7 Comments

Filed under EntoNotes, Teaching matters, The Bloggy Blog

ENTO13 – Small, friendly and by the sea

Last week  (3rd-6th September) I attended ENTO13 the joint International Symposium and Annual National Science meeting of the Royal Entomological Society.

Bag

The symposium, Thirty years of Thornhill & Alcock: The Evolution of Insect Mating Systems, brought together an eclectic group of entomologists to discuss sperm, genitalia and strange and diverse mating habits.  I have to say that some of the genitalia shown were very impressive, one insect penis even having articulated jaws hidden among all the other nasty looking spines adorning it.  Who would want to be a female insect was, I imagine, the thought that crossed the mind of many, if not all, of the audience.  But I’m not here to talk about sex, or even rock and roll.  What I am going to do is to reflect on the differences between this conference and the one I attended a couple of weeks before, INTECOL2013.  INTECOL2013, held in the ExCel, London had about 3000 ecological delegates from around the world representing a huge diversity of interests.  ENTO13, based at the sea-side University of St
Andrews
, had about 150 delegates, many of whom were specialists in insect reproductive strategies but also an equal number

Seaside St Andrews

of entomologists ranging from pest managers to lepidopterists and from PhD students to those who had cut their entomological teeth in the 1950s and ‘60s.  For me and my accompanying PhD student, Francisca Sconce and co-driver, this meant a car journey of about 6½ hours, luckily in a very comfortable, apparently ecological car, a Hyundai i30 Blue which took us all the way there and back on one tank of diesel, with according to the fancy display, another 100 miles in reserve.

The accommodation in Agnes Blackadder Hall was pretty palatial, with double beds, en-suite facilities and a television.  Things have certainly changed since I was a student in undergraduate accommodation at the University of Leeds in the mid-1970s.

The programme started on the 4th with the sessions up until the very nice lunches, being the symposium, and after-lunch sessions being the presentations associated with the national meeting.  For those interested, the symposium speakers included Göran Arnqvist (Uppsala), Boris Baer (University of Western Australia), Bruno Buzatto (Western Australia), John Hunt (Exeter), Hanna Kokko (ANU), Trish Moore (Georgia), Ben Normark (UMASS), Mike Richie (St Andrews), Leigh Simmons (Western Australia), Per Smiseth (Edinburgh), Rhonda Snook (Sheffield) and Nina Wedell (University of Exeter).  Some of the speakers had known Randy Thornville and John Alcock, others were in utero or not even a twinkle in the eye, when the famous book appeared in 1983.

Thornhill & SAlcock

The afternoon speakers ranged in subject area from agro-ecology, sexual selection and in my case, social media and entomology.  Unlike INTECOL2013, where I spent an equal amount of time between talks and roaming the poster hall, I managed to attend a full set of talks each day, except for one that I missed by accident.  So a full, varied and very interesting programme. I have to say that having only two concurrent sessions made it a lot easier to make decisions; a definite advantage that smaller conferences have over bigger ones.

I mentioned the delegate badges at INTECOL2013, giving them a definite thumbs-up, so it is only fair that I mention the ENTO13 ones.  They were not large, but the font was a good size and both sides of  the badge had our names on, so it didn’t matter if they twizzled round during the day.

Badre RES front  Badge RES back

Delegates as I have already intimated, ranged from those of us who can remember the 1970s to those who had heard of the 1970s from their parents.  It was also heartening to see how many of the  younger entomologists present were female.  For me, it was also great to see how many of the students that I had taught on the MSc Entomology course, originally at Silwood Park and now

Older    Younger

at Harper Adams University, were talking, exhibiting posters or just in attendance.  It was great to see old friends, some like Darryl Gwynne, whom I have known for over 20 years via email, but had never met, and to meet and talk to many others.  I didn’t get to talk to all the delegates, but unlike INTECOL2013, I did manage to see everyone that I had intended to.

At the very nice conference dinner, where our starter was a very nice mini haggis, neeps and tattie confection,  our President Jeremy Thomas, gave a mercifully short speech and allowed Fellows to sign the Obligation Book, if they had not already done so.

Dinner  Haggis Signing the book

For those not  immersed in the arcane lore of the Royal Entomological Society, the Obligations Book is signed by newly elected Fellows the first time that they are at meeting where the book is present.  As the book very rarely leaves London, it is sometimes several years before a Fellow actually signs the book and accepts the obligations placed on him or her, as a member of the Society.  The really thrilling thing about the Obligations Book is that as well as being signed twice by Queen Victoria, once as Princess Victoria when she became the Patron of the Society, it also contains the signatures of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.  This meeting was the second time that the book had been in Scotland, the first time being back in April 1984 at a meeting organised by Allan Watt and myself in Edinburgh.  It brought back memories to see our signatures preserved for posterity, although my signature over the years has deteriorated seriously and now no longer resembles the one in the book.

Signatures compressed

Being in Scotland, there was of course the obligatory ceilidh after the conference dinner.  As I was speaking the next day, I had only one dance and one swift dram of the Macallan.

Ceilidh

My talk, first one after lunch on the last day of the conference, not exactly a prime-time slot, was all about why I began to Tweet and Blog, and will be the subject of  a future post.  Speaking of Twitter, ENTO13 was not as Tweet-enabled as INTECOL2013, but a small, but dedicated band of tweeters summarised every talk throughout the conference and we engaged “Tweetisitors”, not only from the UK but Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

Tweetisitors

Overall, ENTO13 was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative conference and I would like to thank the Royal Entomological Society and the symposium organisers for providing me the opportunity to re-visit St Andrews and to meet so many interesting entomologists.

Post script

I also managed to add a new roundabout to my collection – this double just outside the university, the big one with appropriately enough, Scots pine trees, the other with various exotics.

Roundabout St Andrews

Leave a comment

Filed under EntoNotes, The Bloggy Blog, Uncategorized

Sometimes big can be good – Reflections on INTECOL 2013

Warning:  I am not going to discuss the science presented, just my impressions of the conference as a whole.

In April I wrote about my dislike of big international conferences  citing reasons such as  the difficulty in finding people, session clashes, people giving talks on already published papers and the tendency of just talking to people you already know.  I finished the article somewhat cynically, with the phrase “perhaps INTECOL will prove me wrong”; for those of you who may not know, INTECOL is the acronym of the International Association for Ecology (I had to look it up myself to get it exactly right).  INTECOL 2013 (#INT13 for Twitter users) coincided with the 100th birthday of the British Ecological Society and was held at the ExCel Centre in London.  It thus promised to be a very large event.  So two strikes against it already as far as I was concerned, huge conference and in London, probably my least favourite city of all time; twenty years of commuting into the South Kensington campus of Imperial College from Bracknell has not left me pleasant memories and although having had a cosmopolitan childhood I am a small village boy at heart.  I probably wouldn’t have gone to INTECOL at all, if the British Ecological Society hadn’t subsidised my attendance (I am an Associate Editor for the Journal of Animal Ecology) and we hadn’t taken our summer holiday earlier than usual this year.  I decided that I would commute in daily, rather than pay for accommodation; we still have a house in Bracknell, despite me working in Shropshire, and it would also give me the opportunity to have some family time.

For me the conference started on Sunday morning when my wife and I travelled into the ExCel Centre to set up the Harper Adams University display stand.  This was done very quickly and we then went for a walk in the sunshine to look at the surrounding area with the impressive London Dockers statue just outside the ExCel , and the street food outlets down near the

Dockers-Statue_preview

Emirates Air Lines (cable cars across the  Thames) and an abortive trip to look at the London Olympic site (no access available); luckily next to the Westfield Shopping Centre, so some entertainment there;  people watching from the M&S Café on the Bridge and a free taster glass of the new Pimms flavour, blackberry and elderflower.  Then back to the ExCel for the very pleasant welcome mixer, where as I had predicted I spoke to people I already knew and then back home to Bracknell.  I was up very early on Monday to catch the dreaded Reading to Waterloo slow service (65 minutes from Bracknell to Waterloo) and then the 40 minute tube and DLR journey from Waterloo to Prince Regent and the ExCel.  Things were very busy but as I had volunteered to do student talk judging, my schedule was fixed for me for the first two days; no need to wade through the huge programme and sigh over clashes.   At the first plenary it was announced that questions would only be taken via Twitter; there were a few disgruntled groans from the audience but as a Twitter convert of less than a year, I was intrigued and  it also gave me an idea.  There and then I decided that I would try to say hello in person to as many people I could find who followed me on Twitter, my fellow Tweeps.  I had a mission and I have to admit it made the meeting quite fun, instead of waiting for people to say hello and mainly just talking to old friends I was on the hunt; as an entomologist it reminded me very much of my childhood days of insect collecting.  This was also made easier by the very user-friendly delegate badges, actually readable at a distance and here I at least, was very pleased with the draconian attitude of the ExCel

Simon Badge

security staff who insisted that badges were worn at all times by delegates.  It always annoys me when delegates don’t wear their badges and when the lettering is so small that you have to get embarrassingly close to people’s vital areas to identify them 😉  Note that in the picture above the lanyard is positioned to prevent the badge turning round and being unreadable; many people used the central hole which meant that their badges were often totally useless as a means of identification.

Wrong badge

At first I took a few of my ex-students to task (of which there were many) and showed them how to wear their badges.  I may then have become somewhat evangelical, indeed officious, about the subject and started teaching strangers how to wear their badges correctly;

Badge wearing

no matter I had a mission and was enjoying the conference and meeting lots of new people. The second conference-changing moment was the plenary lectures and asking questions via Twitter, or Tweeqs as I called them.  One problem I did have, was that I found it difficult to type and listen at the same time; how do students manage in lectures?  I also found that although you could ask a question there was then no chance to riposte when the speaker answered verbally to the whole audience, so no real debate, but I think it has potential.  For example, my question to Georgina Mace, who gave a very good lecture on biodiversity conservation in the 21st Century but largely ignored invertebrates when making assumptions and predictions about the future, was not entirely answered to my

G Mace question

satisfaction, being along the lines of yes I know that data are not balanced but we are waiting for you guys to produce similar data sets, did generate some Twitter debate but I was not able to respond directly to Georgina.  Still, I think that this is definitely an

Mace riposte

creative way forward and allows people not at a conferences to ‘attend’.  I especially highlight this for the benefit of Chris Buddle of McGill University and Blogger extra-ordinaire at Arthropod Ecology, who although not at INTECOL, was able to participate, albeit only at a distance (from Canada to be precise).

Buddle question

Perhaps at future meetings there may be some way to employ an official conference tweeter (or more), akin to the way translators are used at the United Nations?

I also very much enjoyed meeting many of the next generation of ecologists as well as chatting to many ex-students and colleagues.  I would especially like to highlight the fact that Kathryn Luckett, a PhD student at Silwood Park, publicised, first via Twitter and secondly by her recent blog post, about the inequality in ecology of career progression for female scientists as very well illustrated by the presenters at the conference.

 Speakers for Simon

I think that this is something for us all to think very hard about. and I urge you to read her post.

Commuting as I was, meant that I was not as able to take part in the social events to the same extent as those staying in the very nearby hotels, healthier for both my wallet and my liver, although that said I did pick up a cold – not sure who to blame for that, the daily tube journey or the influx of delegates from all around the world!

The programme overall was excellent, the speakers in the main, fantastic, and the organisation by the BES and local committee very good indeed.  I would have liked it better if the coffee and tea had been on tap all day and not at set times.  The BES Centenary party was a superb idea, even though I had to leave before the band started!  So on the whole; I actually enjoyed this conference very much but I am not sure how much I gained scientifically.  I do think, however, that everyone had a great time and I certainly made many useful contacts, although as predicted there were a number of people who I wanted to see who I never did manage to find.  Well done BES and INTECOL for putting on such a great event. It is always good to be proved wrong once in a while, especially if it is a pleasant surprise.

The week after next, I am presenting a talk at ENTO13 at St Andrews University, on the usefulness of social media for scientists.  This will be a much smaller conference, albeit international.  I wonder if I will enjoy it as much or more?

Post script – for those of you curious about the stand, here is a picture of it with me and Fran Sconce (a PhD student of mine working on Collembola) in attendance.  Note that we are both wearing butterfly themed clothing – how entomological can you get 😉 and our badges are the right way round.

Harper Stand INTECOL

4 Comments

Filed under Bugbears, Uncategorized

Big is not always better: How big should a conference be?

I recently spent three very enjoyable days at a conference (Environmental Management on Farmland 23-25th April 2013, Brigg) jointly organised by the Association of Applied Biologists and the British Ecological Society.  The conference was held in response to the forthcoming Common Agricultural Policy reforms about the greening of the CAP.  Talks and posters were presented by a range of participants including economists, farmers, entomologists, ornithologists, representatives from the agrichemicals companies and agro-ecologists.   Participants ranged from PhD students to long-established scientists from universities and government organisations.  I give this preamble to show that this was a multi-disciplinary conference covering a wide range of subjects.  There were however, only 70 registered delegates.   The organisers considered this a very successful conference.  Contrast this with the British Ecological Society annual general meeting that I attended just before Christmas last year (18-20 December 2012) in Birmingham.  This was a very well-attended meeting, over 700 delegates, with a huge number of concurrent sessions covering a wide range of subjects in ecology. The organisers considered this meeting a huge success with more delegates attending than had done so for a number of years.

I have attended the BES annual meetings since I was a PhD student 35 years ago and thus have a long and affectionate association with the meeting and the society.  Ask me which meeting I found the most useful and I will however, have to say the small AAB meeting.  I must confess here that I am not actually a fan of big meetings; I have made it a point over the years not to attend the major international jamborees and only occasionally attend European meetings, generally restricting myself to meetings where the delegate list does not exceed 300 or so.  Why do I take this stance you may ask?

Why do we go to conferences I ask?  If asked most people would, I guess, say to hear about new developments, meet up with old friends and make new connections and networks.  Huge international conferences in my mind, only address the second point and then only if you make prior arrangements.  Too many people make it almost impossible to find people who you know are there and people rarely give talks about unpublished results.  The bigger the conference, the more dispersed the delegates are; at the BES in Birmingham we were staying in hotels scattered around the city centre, so the chance of eating communal breakfasts was much reduced.  There is also a tendency at big conferences for people to stick together with people they know.  So at the BES everywhere I went I saw Silwoodians (people from the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College, London) talking with other Silwoodians, ex-Silwoodians talking to other ex-Silwoodians, Silwoodians talking to ex-Silwoodians and so on.  I met only one two people at the BES conference meeting.  Bob ‘O’ Hara and Darren Evans if you were wondering, and I had sort of met them on Twitter earlier in the year.  Those non ex-Silwoodians that I knew and spoke to, were people I had met many years ago as a young ecologist at previous BES meetings when numbers were in the 200-300 range or so.  In contrast, at the smaller meeting that I have just returned from, I spoke to 38 people, 26 of whom I had never met before.  I discussed four possible project applications and agreed to examine a PhD thesis!  So in my opinion, a huge success on all fronts, except possibly for agreeing to examine the thesis.

On the possible downside, at small conferences/workshops, sessions are consecutive, so nowhere to hide, and there are fewer stalls/book sellers to wander around in between sessions or if you feel you need a rest from the talks.  I am not saying that young ecologists and entomologists should not go to large international conferences, but just suggesting that they are much more likely to get to meet and interact with the VIPs at smaller meetings/workshops than they are at a very large meeting.  At the big meetings the VIPs are usually booked into different hotels, have pre-arranged meetings and will be in committee meetings and if in the bar, surrounded by their old friends.  Only the bravest and brashest PhD student is willing to break into such a circle.

Surrounded by acolytes

At the smaller meeting you will be staying in the same hotel with them, possibly having breakfast with them and they will not be surrounded by the great and the good.  They might even buy you a drink. So yes, the thrill of a big meeting is undeniable, but in terms of future contacts, small is beautiful.

That said, the BES do arrange some really useful postgraduate workshops at their Annual meeting, which gives PhD students the opportunity to interact with each other, make those contacts that will enable them to have old friends to talk to at future meetings, and meet some of the VIPs that would normally not be reachable.  Plus of course, it is a great opportunity to gain some superb practical life lessons.

In summary, I think you just have to think, what is it that you actually want out of a conference, how much is it going to cost in time and money, and then make the appropriate decision.

Perhaps INTECOL will prove me wrong?

2 Comments

Filed under Bugbears, The Bloggy Blog