Scientific Conferences 101

BIOGEOMON Conference 2012 in Camden, Maine. Photo courtesy of Morgan Fuller, 2012.

By Mike SanClements, PhD

Ever wonder exactly what goes on at a scientific conference? I know I did before attending my first one. So let me try and give you a little insight – in case you’re preparing for your first one or are just curious about what us scientists are up to when we all gather in some random city.

Last week, I attended BIOGEOMON 2012: The 7th International Symposium on Ecosystem Behavior (and my favorite conference), which was hosted by the University of Maine and held in Camden, Maine. It was my second time attending, as I also participated in the 6th BIOGEOMON held in Helsinki, Finland in 2009. BIOGEMON began as an initiative by the Czech Geological Society (a place where I now have many friends, thanks to this conference) back in 1975 and has been held every 2 or 3 years since, always bouncing back and forth between Europe and the United States.

Each day of the conference was comprised of talks and posters organized around “session themes” (except Wednesday, which was a field trip day). This year’s session themes included topics like: Long-term integrated monitoring and modeling; Biosphere-atmosphere interactions and exchanges: gases and aerosols; The role of extreme events in ecosystem biogeochemistry; Linkages among biogeochemical cycles; and many more. The field trips were both science and non-science related, with visits to research sites, hiking day trips, and sea kayaking. At night, we’d have dinner with colleagues and kick around ideas for research or writing projects.

The talks and posters were generally fantastic, and the size of the conference was just right (~250 people) to facilitate meeting new colleagues, gaining feedback on research, and planting the seeds for future collaborations. And that’s exactly what conferences are supposed to do.

As a window into my experience you can check out some of my notes from the conference. I don’t expect them to make perfect sense by any means, but perhaps you can get a glimpse into the ideas that ran through my head during the week.

Former Senator George Mitchell (who I urge you to read about) closed the conference with an amazing keynote address and perhaps the best talk I’ve ever seen in person. He offered some wonderful advice to finish his speech, saying, “Real fulfillment in your life will come not from status or possessions, but in working for causes larger than yourself.” Something I think us early career ecologists can relate to.

If you want to check out the conference website, here’s the link:

Hope to see you at the next BIOGEOMON in Germany 2014!