#CERF2015: A recap

If you follow me or STS on any of the social medias (Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr), you know that over the second week of November I traveled to Portland, OR for the bi-annual meeting of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF).  It was a overwhelming, inspiring, fun week.  In the past, I have written about my major tips when attending an academic conferences and Meridith has given insights into her conference fashion choices.  This time, I thought it might be fun to recap the trip itself, for a little insider scoop on CERF and life as a graduate student at a professional meeting.  I promise it’s more than sitting in talks, but you’ll have to read on to find out more!

The Trip

I have a lot of science and science related fun to talk about, but the great thing about going to conferences is visiting a new city and hanging out with people you usually only see in the lab or at the desk across from you.  My two favorite things about this conference were my entire lab (sans PI) piled into a single hotel room and the ability to be car free for an entire week!  Portland has pretty killer public transit, and the conference provided a week long light rail pass as part of our registration.  I did have to take an Uber to the train station the day I was leaving, but only because I was running late.

Vegan noms

The free transit made it really easy to enjoy the city in the evening, when the conference wasn’t in session.  As many long-term blog readers probably know, I’m vegan, so getting to experience the quirky vegan mecha that is Portland was a real treat.  I’ve been to Portland a few times before, and I always make it a point to visit the super tourist trap that is Voodoo Doughnuts.  This time around, I headed over to Stumptown Coffee to get a beverage to accompany the delightful, sugary, vegan noms.  At the other end of the day, what a city for breweries!  Myself and various labmates hit up Deschutes Brewery, Cascade Brewing Barrel House (sour beers!), Commons Brewery, and Base Camp Brewing Company (my favorite of the trip).

Getting to and from the conference was also a cool experience.  I took the train from Davis to Portland and back again.  It was a long-ish train ride, 14 hours or so, but it was relaxing and I got a lot of work/reading done.  I actually wrote an essay about the train ride, but the content doesn’t really apply to this blog.  You can, however, read that essay over at our friend Beth’s blog, Finding Delight, on Tuesday (12/8/15).

Base Camp Brews

The Conference Fun

I had lots of conference adjacent fun during the week.  Signing up for conference sponsored events can be a good way to network.  This time around, I only signed up for the 5K Fun Run.  Maybe not as useful as the Women in Science Luncheon, but I did pseduo-meet some people, and I ran a 5K, so.

I did a lot more effective networking and fun having at lunch and in the evenings.  I got to grab burritos and such over the lunch hour with several collaborators.  The highlight of this informal drinking/networking was an evening picking the brain of a women who worked at NOAA.  My labmate and I met up with her semi-randomly while out to dinner with our lab, our adviser introduced us, and we ended up hanging out with her for several hours.  She gave some pretty killer career and life advice.    

5K Fun Run with my labmate

The Science

Obviously, the science at this conference was pretty killer, and the only reason I was really in Portland.  I took in literally hours of science over the week, but my favorite parts, as it often is at conferences, were the plenary sessions.  Getting the chance to hear from inspirational individuals who are doing important work is great, and the fact that so many of the conference attendees end up in one room for these talks is pretty powerful.  

This year, my favorite was the plenary Session on Multiple Stressors in Coastal Ecosystems.  The three speakers had very different perspectives, but my science communication loving self really dug the last speaker, Dr. Susanne Moser, who spoke on “Communicating Multiple Stresses: Countering Overwhelm, Engendering Hope.”  One of my favorite gems Dr. Moser got across was the idea that we, as humans, do one of two things when we feel we are in danger: we reduce the dance or we reduce our own feelings of danger.  She contended, and I agree, that when it comes to climate change we are predominantly doing the latter.  

What do we do about this problem?  Dr. Moser outlined a multi-tiered solution for getting pumped for solving ocean problems.  The last step, and the one I found most intriguing, was the need for individual people to be able to “envision a meaningful role for themselves.”  For myself, as a marine ecologist, imagining this meaningful role is pretty straight forward.  But what does this mean for the average citizen?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  What do you see as your meaningful role for addressing climate change and ocean issues?

Train to Portland

I also really enjoyed the Ignite Session this year at CERF.  For those who might be unfamiliar, an ignite style talk consists of 20 slides with a timer set to only allow 15 seconds per slide.  Slides are, thus, free of lots of extraneous clutter and speakers have to really think about what they are going to say.  This session was titled “Igniting the Fire to Answer Grand Challenges.”  I initially went to see my MS mentor, Dr. Christine Whitcraft, speak.  Christine gave a great talk, naturally, but this whole session was just straight killing it.  I cried.  Twice.  During a session at a science conference.  The last speaker brought up this Mary Oliver quotation, which I adore, and I think really hit home for the feel of that session.

“What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

Needless to say, I saw plenty of the more traditional 12 minute style science talks.  It was great to get updated on some work that I had read about in past papers or on the blogs of fellow researchers.  I also saw a talk that directly applied to a new experiment my lab mate and I hope to perform this winter.  I texted her to tell her about it, then saw her across the room.  It for sure got me stoked to work on some more of my own stuff in the coming months.    

As an introvert, poster sessions aren’t my favorite part of conferences, no matter if I’m on the giving or receiving end of things.  I’d rather give a talk and have it be over in 15 minutes (not the 2 hours a poster session usually lasts), or, on the receiving end, watch a talk and seek someone out if I feel like networking.  But, I always at least go for an hour to peruse titles that seem relevant to me.  There is also almost always beer at poster sessions; I think this is 0% coincidence because poster sessions are an interpersonal nightmare.  Did I mention the introvert thing.  Eh.  Once I got over myself, I saw some of the most interesting studies and met some of the coolest people of the conference in the poster session.  Eelgrass restoration, camouflage in marine environments, the difference between invasive and native predators to native prey, you name it!  I gave a poster on my work in Spartina restoration here in the SF Bay, and I actually won best graduate student poster, which was totally unexpected but pretty gratifying.   

I live tweeted a lot of the conference, but especially the plenary sessions I attended and the Ignite Session.  You can check that content out here.

Train ride to Portland

The Inspiration

Just being around this many fired up scientists definitely gave my inspiration levels a boost, but a one key thing really left me feeling juiced as I took the long train ride back home.  Here it is:

The Keynote speaker, a women.

Five of the six members of the plenary sessions, ladies.

Five of the six scientific award winners at the conference, females!

Representation matters y’all.  It makes me feel so freaking empowered to see these women recognized for all of their efforts.  Who will be next?  I don’t know, but I have a little bit more confidence that they might look like me!

#ConferenceFashion mostly consisted of this killer brown scarf.

What about you all? Go to any cool conferences lately?  Interested in attending your first conference as a student?  Wondering about the weird norms of conference dress code?  Let’s chat about it in the comments.


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