One of the most important things a scientist can do is to share her work with other scientists. It gives experts the opportunity to ask critical, helpful questions; it lets scientists find areas of common interest; it gives us new perspectives on our work; and it help us to avoid stepping on each others’ toes. You can publish your work in a scholarly journal or, if you want a more face-to-face interaction with your colleagues, you can present your work at a scientific conference.
Most areas of research have a yearly conference or two, where everybody meets to compare notes and share their most recent results. Maybe you noticed that I wasn’t posting for a few weeks? That’s partly because I was at the International Particle Accelerator Conference, hosted this year in New Orleans, LA.
The conferences I go to usually have two parts. In the morning, we have a bunch of talks.
The poster session is a bit like your high school science fair. (Yes, there really is a reason for those things!) Everybody goes into a big room, you put up posters about your work, and then you stand around answering questions about your work. Or, you walk around and check out everybody else’s poster. Also, coffee.
I’ve given talks and I’ve presented posters. I actually feel like the poster session is more fun. The people who are most interested in your research have a chance to speak with you face-to-face. You end up having some very interesting conversations with some very interesting people. Giving a talk is considered more high-profile, but it’s hard to have a stimulating dialogue with a dark room full of sleepy people.
I bet you’re wondering what else I got up to in New Orleans. Well, in addition to talks and posters, the third thing to do at conferences is to have conversations. For a week, you’re staying within a mile radius of all your field’s experts. It’s the perfect opportunity to knock around your ideas with some smart people, to start new collaborations, and to brainstorm about the future. I’d say I was working after hours, over dinner, just as often as I was sitting and listening to talks.
Of course, I couldn’t go to New Orleans and only work. After talks on the last day, I ran off to the bayou with some friends and met some gators.
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