Ready to launch . . .

We have come to associate particular “getting ready” sequences with “big event” sequences in movies. Every boxing movie has that scene in the locker room where the underdog silently and sloowwwwly tapes up his hands. Every rodeo scene has that that slow-motion set-up where the rider settles onto the bull or the bronco in the chute. You almost always hear the rider’s heartbeat, and the animal’s breathing. Every race car sequence has those few second of sitting still and revving engines as the slow-motion smoke billows out. They’re all signals that Something Big is coming.

Something Big is coming in our geeky little world next week — it’s conference season (Yes, OK, Fine, I realize it’s not Rocky or Return of the King or Raging Bull, but bear with me — I’m a scientist, not a boxer). The atmosphere is palpable. Graphs are being generated, last-minute data are being analysed, colour schemes are being chosen, slides and posters are being put together, timing is being practiced. The week before a conference is pretty much the single busiest week we have here in the lab, especially when lots of people are going to give presentations. A half-dozen of us are off to the Entomological Society of Canada meeting in Edmonton in a few days (then, almost as soon as we get back, I’m off to the Entomological Society of America meeting in Knoxville).

Right now, four other people scattered around the lab are making last minute tweaks and adjustments as they wait for me (yup, me — the rate-limiting step) to get some more comments back to them. We’ll have a few run-throughs of oral presentations. We’ll assess the visual impact of posters. We’ll give each other feedback and advice on things that weren’t quite clear, things that need elaboration, things that could probably be cut out.

Clarity is being boosted. Red-green colour combinations are being purged as a courtesy to our esteemed colleagues with red-green colour-blindness (have you ever googled how prevalent that is?). Difficult fonts are being replaced by pleasing and readable ones.

Conferences are a great opportunity for students to present their progress on projects, to meet new people and reconnect with colleagues they already know, to promote themselves in the broader community. Students have much to gain from doing a good presentation.

Conferences are a great opportunity for me too. I connect with colleagues that I only see once a year or so, I see what’s going on in other labs in other universities, I meet potential future students and collaborators, and sometimes I’ll even grab some time to have a beer, or two, with colleagues and friends. Perhaps most importantly, conferences are also a fantastic time for a supervisor to be proud of the lab crew.

You can keep your boxing rings and bulls and broncos and sunrise over Cape Canaveral. We’ve a got a lab full of geeky fun and we’re taking it on the road.


About terry wheeler

professor, museum director, entomologist, ecologist, naturalist
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