Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leading the conference life

It seems that nearly every profession holds conferences. Opportunities for people within the industry to get together, tell about what they are doing, shake hands, exchange business cards and hear about the cutting edge technology. It seems we always hear about medical conferences, but conferences penetrate many, many areas. On Sunday when I was flying down to Orlando a group of guys next to me were coming down for their conference, with their company, John Deere. My company doesn't host conferences in neat areas...

AB's does. Well, I suppose if you can call Baltimore neat. But last summer we compared notes about his conference and my - albeit limited - conference experiences. At his conference there was free flowing alcohol and bars that were opened with the purpose of partying at the hotels.

You can't do this for my organization.

It's called bribes and kick backs and we learn all about it on an annual basis in our required ethics training.

I am not a common fixture on the conference circuit. This past year I have travelled seven times and only one was for an open (as in nearly anyone can attend) conference. I attend client meetings and program reviews routinely. But conferences? Not really.

In the past few years I have obtained a new client who likes a lot for us to share all the great and wonderful things we have done on the projects and so when this conference came onto my radar - coincidentally about the same time I had been discussing Disneyland and Disneyworld with my friends - I jumped.

Ok, I will admit that being a bit out of the loop on the public conference circuit, that I wasn't quite sure what to expect. And like all walks of life, you get all types of people. Ok, so with scientists - maybe you get a bit more of a certain type of people... those people that may or may not look like Einstein and are absolutely brilliant, but a bit lacking in the social sense.

I have had the pleasure of hanging out with my good friend R, this week. I think she is a bit more versed in the conference routine and so it has been nice to have her here. Oh and while she is brilliant, she isn't one of the socially awkward ones and in fact is a bit outgoing. (Which I am not.) I suck at walking up and introducing myself.

The conference has been nice - the food has been mostly hit, with a few misses. Truly, the fact that they are feeding us at all is nice and unexpected.

We both had posters to present. For those of you unfamiliar with the routine, a poster session is where you are given a few hours to stand in an approximately 4' x 8' x 2' piece of real estate and answer questions presented to you by anyone who walks up and inquires about your research. Poster... this is your prop. It's what shows the project or projects you are presenting and displays your groundbreaking (or not) research.

This is also the opportunity for all those socially awkward people to purchase alcohol at the end of the long day.

Given my introverted nature, I am not terribly fond of poster sessions. I would actually rather stand up in front of a crowd and at a podium for 20 minutes and present my research to people than stand for 2 hours and be one on one with people. Just my preference.

This may go back to my first ever poster sessions as a grad student.

One of them I was scooped. My very first poster session I talked at length to a group of guys from Stanford about my research who then published my research 6-9 months later. Scooped.

The second poster session I had a leach of a Japanese professor who wouldn't leave me alone. He smelled of alcohol, patted my butt and then offered me a post-doc position in his lab in Japan and suggested I come back to his room to discuss "opportunities". I quickly grabbed the older male Chinese post-doc in my group and with some difficulty (he spoke little English) managed to convey to him to not leave my side.

No such experiences at this conference. One man (who was slurring his words a fair bit) thought my research would make for a fascinating CSI episode and suggested I should write a screenplay and sell it. My two hours went by fairly quickly, thankfully.

We are halfway through the conference and I would call it a success. I met one of the reviewers for the proposals I have out currently who smiled, told me he thought he recognized my name, but he was very sorry he could not speak to me anymore about my research once I told him I had these two proposals pending.

I have shaken hands, exchanged business cards, tried not to act too naive or inexperienced. I have stood at grad students posters and smiled while they eagerly explained their research to me while it dawned on me that I am at least 15 years their senior and wasn't it just yesterday that I was doing this? I met up with current and former coworkers and even a parent of one of the students working on one of my projects - who looked amazingly young and once again reminded me that maybe I am not as young as I think I am.

It's been a good week. But frankly, I am counting the hours until AB arrives with the kids and the Disney and Harry Potter fun begins.

1 comment:

RAB said...

You are are brilliant too and have cool research, too! It has been great hanging out and having a friend here, especially when this is such a huge conference. My favorite so far - the brownie lollipops! Oh, and the rock star entrance music! Makes me think science can be cool!