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This week’s guest blogger is Debbie Knight, a research associate at The Ohio State University. She shares her research thoughts and experiences in her blog (biologyze.com) and tweets about all things science (@acousticgravity). In her spare time, she plays mandolin in a local band and takes journalism classes at OSU.
When someone asked me what I wanted to be in high school, I would say a “biomedical researcher.” I put those words in quotes here because at that time I had absolutely no idea what it meant (or even what a researcher did), but I knew it sounded like a really cool thing to be.
I also asked my parents for luggage as a graduation gift.
Little did I know these two things would one day merge.
I would like to note that around my junior year of college, I finally did figure out what a researcher does when I volunteered to work in a lab and that research has been my passion for the past two decades.
What I did not know then was that becoming a researcher would lead to travel and adventure.
Early on, I thought that only the head cheese (aka the principal investigator of the lab) attended scientific meetings. I had no idea that a research associate such as myself might also have that opportunity.
So you can imagine my surprise when my boss asked if I wanted to present my project at my first scientific conference in Keystone, Colorado nearly 17 years ago. I submitted an abstract summarizing the research, crossed my fingers, and it was selected for a poster presentation by the meeting’s organizers.
Gulp! This was my first scientific conference and I had absolutely no idea what happened at a poster presentation. I was really nervous as scientists from various walks of life came up to my poster and asked me questions. I suspect they sensed I was a newbie and mercifully took it “easy” on me. Although those two hours flew by and my initiation was overall a good experience, I was relieved when it was over.
But I found that this was only part of the “work” at a scientific conference. The other part consists of attending symposia, oral presentations, plenary sessions – sometimes you struggle to stay awake as a scientist drones on and on about his research (imagine actor Ben Stein’s monotone voice). And other times, you are sitting on the edge of your seat because the speaker is riveting, and you’re getting excited because what she is talking about directly applies to your project and you’re furiously writing down a gazillion new ideas that you can’t wait to try as soon as you get back to the lab from your “geekation.”
Okay, I will admit that my geek vacation (or geekation* as I like to call it) wasn’t entirely educational, I had other forms of fun as well (you know, things that anyone might find fun). On that particular trip, I skied down a mountainside (in the biggest snow plow stance I could possibly manage since I was a new skier and the slopes were steep), skated on a frozen lake that cracked and groaned as skaters glided over it, and danced to live music with other scientists at the banquet (you may not know this, but scientists can be a pretty wild bunch if the conditions are right).
Other geekation destinations have included:
I think perhaps the coolest geekations were the ones where my two band mates and I, in addition to attending the conference, also provided the musical entertainment for the opening reception. Yes, we schlepped our instruments (a 12-string acoustic guitar, a flute, and my mandolin) to such destinations as Monterey, California, Chicago, Illinois, and Maastricht, The Netherlands on what we affectionately called the “conference circuit.” Probably the most memorable moment was playing the song “Southern Cross” with sand oozing between my toes while a sailboat bobbed along the horizon as the sun set on Monterey Bay. Or maybe it was playing Led Zepplin’s “The Battle of Evermore” to an amazing laser-light show. It’s a tough call.
I enjoy geekations so much (and nearly all of my vacations as an adult have been geekations), that I’ve even been known to tag along on another researcher’s geekation. I went with a friend to a meeting in Banff, Alberta, Canada and while she spent her days at the meeting, I could be found skiing in the Canadian Rockies or mushing a dozen huskies pulling a dog sled. I should note that I did attend her poster session, so there was a geek element included in the trip. And last week I tagged along with my husband to Seattle. So while he learned about brain tumors and neuropathology, I was slogging it through a marsh in the Washington Park Arboretum, ruining a pair of new shoes. Again, being the science geek that I am, I snuck into a couple of short talks just so I wouldn’t feel totally left out of the scientific loop. (As I write this I realize that perhaps some of you may think I need psychological help, but I would argue that I’m pretty “normal” … for a scientist).
So, there you have it! A well-kept secret of being a researcher, a “perk” if you will, and this geek’s version of the ideal vacation: a scientific conference. Who knew?!
* It should noted that all of my geekations (which, at last count, add up to about 20) have either been paid from the principal investigator’s discretionary funds (and not NIH grant money) or out of my own pocket (for the tag-alongs).
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I've been to a couple of keystone meetings but couldn't ever afford to go skiing. Plus they only gave us like 3 hrs to explore the place, so the $150 it'd cost to go down the slopes really wasn't worth it. I guess that just makes for a good excuse to extend the trip a few more days and pay for your room out of pocket. We have a big virus meeting coming up in August and its in Helsinki Finland. This will be my first trip to Europe! I'm pretty excited!
I find them relaxing and stimulating.. use the brain a bit and have some fun
'...a big virus meeting'... I'm desperately searching for the joke, but I can't find it.
The White Party in Palm Springs, CA and Miami, FL?
I love conferences too, and for an introvert like myself poster sessions are perfect. As a grad student my PI was
poor but would generously send someone from the lab rather than herself to at least one a year. There are a lot of bursaries available for students and I too that I took advantage of. I made my postdoc PI (who had lots
of grant money) send me to one every year. It really is a valuable experience and I would always come back with fresh new research ideas.
My year of graduation was the most beneficial because I shamelessly pinned copies of my CV to my poster. As a result I landed several on-the-spot interviews and job offers from labs that might not have otherwise considered me. Everyone should try and get sent to a conference when they are looking for a postdoc position.
We here at Geekation.com approve of this post because it has our name in it. That is all...
Actually that's not all. There's more!
Here's a pic of a raccoon carying a cat over the threashold on their honemoon...