The Oscars of the coral reef world occurs quartannually in the form of the International Coral Reef Symposium. Unlike the entertainment awards the conference showcases current research from scientists across the globe in the field of coral reef conservation and research. This summer I was lucky enough to be accepted to present my own research at the event held in Cairns Australia. He conference was set to be a remarkable event with a huge emphasis on outreach to under-represented research groups from Asia, Africa and South America. In total 2,200 delegates were in attendance spanning from highly acclaimed researchers at the top of their field, all the way to undergraduate students who have struck it lucky with their thesis project and supervisor. Aside from academics there were also conservation groups, NGO’s, local governments, journalists, videographers and photographers joining the party.
I was one of five representing the University of Essex, making our small mark in this world or research dominated by Australia and the States. Being my first international conference it was exciting, the atmosphere was buzzing. I was among many hopeful PhD students wanting to network, build contacts and get their name out for potential careers in the future. There were so many talks, 22 sessions in total often with 11 running simultaneously. Each talk lasted 15 minutes and with little time between talks it was often a mad dash to ensure you made it to a room on the other side of the venue, or on occasion several blocks down the street, to make the talks you didn’t want to miss. My schedule consisted of a mix of those top names in the field, research from units I was interested in and other PhD students following a similar train of thought to myself who could potentially be collaborators or big competition.
In the world of science there is a lag before publication. The review process is often a lengthy one and with time for data collection, analysis and publication the work can often be 3 years+ in the making. These conferences therefore provide an invaluable opportunity to scope out what others are thinking, to either shout for joy that your work is unique and potentially ground-breaking or think ‘I better get this out before they pip me to the post!’ For me the was a little bit of both, some students were beginning to ask similar questions to myself, but many did not seem to have made the linkages I have so far and so has really put the pressure on me to develop my work further to obtain the evidence I need to make robust assumptions and publications.
Aside from talking science the conference provided a great opportunity to catch up with old friends. Last year I attended a workshop in Peurto Morelos Mexico and was happy to discover that a number of other participants were also in attendance at the conference. It was great to catch up and share findings and future career paths. What was also funny to see was the similarities our group of PhD candidates drew to those of the ‘big dogs’. As in most scientific fields there are a number of top researchers who are on all the top publications, run the biggest research stations and generally have a lot of funding. All of these guys seemed to know each other and I realized that’s because they started like us, they have been to a number of these conferences and at each meeting catch up with each other and over time have formed friendships not unlike myself and our own group of budding scientists. These guys have all risen the ranks together over the years and formed collaborations with each other and in some cases married each other! I cant help feeling that that will be us in 20 years’ time, come ICRS 2032 I feel there will definitely be a few familiar faces that I have witnessed make their mark in the scientific world.
As for me, my talk was adequate, it was my first big conference I can definitely see where I can improve in the future especially after watching all the talks and seeing how the ‘big dogs’ do it. The only raw deal was that my talk clashed with one of this high hitters and so I feel my audience was slightly impoverished. Nerveless I’m not one to take anything lying down and I owned networking at that conference. I spoke to big conservation organizations, film makers and even some of those ‘Big Dogs’ I’ve mentioned such as Ove Hough-Guldburg, Bill Fitt, and the face of SSSP(1) Roberto Inglasis-Prieto.
So for me the conference was highly enjoyable and a huge success, the only issue I have is that on returning to Indonesia to finish my field work I have been isolated from the communication world and the internet. Therefore I have had quite a delay to update my blog and seal the deal with many of those contacts I worked hard to make so i best crack on with those ASAP!
(1) Super-secret society of nerds that you will have to attend UNAM’s light and photosynthesis workshop to gain entry to.