I am on my travels to my favourite international conference, the biennial conference of the International Society of Microbial Ecology, ISME, this time in Leipzig. As often happens on a long trip (by train) I think back over other conferences and ISME meetings.
I didn’t really have a firm understanding of the place that learned societies and academic conferences played in research whilst doing my PhD at Warwick University. Academic advisors/supervisors can have very different attitudes on whether to encourage or otherwise such an activity for postgraduate researchers. So it wasn’t until my final year that I noticed that others were talking about a forthcoming meeting of the then Society for General Microbiology (now the Microbiology Society), that Warwick was hosting the meeting and that the Society was encouraging researchers to submit abstracts to present research. I submitted an abstract and was picked to give a talk – and I loved the whole experience (other than the natural nerves /adrenalin that giving a talk can bring). Just as I was about to start my talk, friends from across the university joined the audience and sat right on my eye-line, so every time I looked at the audience I kept catching their eyes!
The whole experience of this conference and giving a talk changed my perceptions of what I wanted to do – hey if there were wonderful things like learned societies and conferences then I would do my damndest to have a scientific career.
Fast forward several years and I was preparing for my second ever international conference, the ISME conference in Ljubljana where I was presenting a poster (I didn’t have a clue how to make these but at that time it involved a lot of ‘arts and craft’ work with coloured cardboard and glue…I overdid the glue and found I didn’t need any pins to stick it on the poster board). That was ISME4 and through Kyoto, Barcelona, San Paulo, Halifax Canada, Amsterdam, Cancun, Seattle, Cairns, Copenhagen, Seoul and Montreal we are up to ISME17 in Leipzig. I have played many different roles in various learned societies over these years too, speaking at conferences, organising sessions or entire conferences, growing exciting research collaborations too. The most enjoyable part though for me is always my research students, from undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral research projects and encouraging them to be active in learned societies, presenting research at conferences and networking to establish their own scientific ‘circles’.
So I’m delighted once again to be presenting a session at the start of the ISME17 conference that is entirely about supporting early career researchers at the conference, especially those new to ISME. I’ll cover the friendly nature of the conference, why it is important to branch out away from people from your lab, network and why it’s important and the importance of a mentor. I challenge all of the audience (and likely there will be 400+ people from 60+ different countries) to make at least three new acquaintances, perhaps with research skills or facilities that would benefit them. Then I generally walk around the poster sessions (there are over 2000 posters over 4 days!) and meet the ECRs again and ask of their progress. I’m really looking forward to hearing all of their answers, watch for this in the coming week on twitter!
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