Monday, August 4, 2014

#ESA2014 : Getting ready for (and surviving) ESA

There is less than one week until ecology's largest meeting. ESA's annual meeting starts August 10th in Sacramento, California, and it can be both exciting and also be overwhelming in its size and scope. Here are a few suggestions for making it a success.

Getting ready for ESA.
Sure, things start in a week and you're scheduled for a talk/poster/meeting with a famous prof, but you haven't started preparing yet.

First off, no point beating yourself up for procrastinating: if you've been thinking about your presentation but doing other projects, you might be in the company of other successful people.

If you're giving a talk, and given it before or are an old hand at this sort of thing, go ahead and put it together the night before your talk. One benefit for the truly experienced or gifted speaker is that this talk will never sound over-rehearsed.

Regardless, all speakers should try for a talk that is focused, with a clear narrative and argument, and within the allotted time. (Nothing is more awkward for everyone involved than watching the moderate have to interrupt a speaker). The good news is that ESA audiences will probably be a) educated to at least a basic level on your topic, and b) are usually generous with their attention and polite with their questions. This blog has some really practical advice on putting together an academic talk.
If at all possible, practice in front of a friendly audience ahead of time.

The questions after your talk will vary, and if you're lucky they will relate to future directions, experimental design, quantitative double-checks, and the truly insightful thoughts. However, there other common questions that you should recognize: the courtesy question (good moderators have a few in hand), the "tell-me-how-it-relates-to-my-work" question, and the wandering unquestion.

Giving a poster is much different than giving a talk, and it has pros and cons. First, you have to have it finished in time to have it printed, so procrastination is less possible. Posters are great if you want one-on-one interactions with a wide range of people. You have to make your poster attractive and interesting: this always means don't put too much text on your poster. The start of this pdf gives some nice advice on getting the most out of your poster presentation.

For both posters and presentations, graphics and visual appeal make a big difference. Check out the blog, DeScience, which has some great suggestions for science communication.

Academic meetings. These run the gamut from collaborators that you're just catching up with, to strangers that you have contacted to meet to discuss common scientific interests. If scientists that you share common research activities and interests with are attending ESA, it never hurts to try to meet with them. Many academics are generous with their time, especially for young researchers. If they say yes, come prepared for the conversation. If necessary, review their work that relates to your own. Come prepared to describe your interests and the project/question/experiment you were looking for advice on. It can be very helpful to have some specific questions in mind, in order facilitate the conversation.

What to wear. Impossible to say. Depending on who you are and wear you work normally, you can wear anything from torn field gear and binos to a nice dress or suit (although not too many people will be in suits).

Surviving ESA.
ESA can be very large and fairly exhausting. The key is to pace yourself and take breaks: you don't need to see talks all day long to get your money's worth from ESA. Prioritize the talks that you want to see based on things like speaker or topic. Sitting in on topics totally different from those you study can be quite energizing as well. In this age of smartphones, the e-program is invaluable.

Social media can help you find popular or interesting sounding talks, or fill you in on highlights you missed. This year the official hashtag on twitter is #ESA2014.

One of the most important things you can do is be open to meeting new people, whether through dinner and lunch invites, mixers, or other organized activities. Introverts might cringe a little, but the longest lasting outcome from big conferences is the connections you make there.

Eat and try to get some sleep.

**The EEB & Flow will be live-blogging during ESA 2014 in Sacramento, as we have for the last few years. See everyone in Sacramento!**

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