Conferences

I recommend for each graduate student and postdoc to go to 1-3 national or international conferences each year, and to present a talk if you can, a poster otherwise. If you do this consistently, by the end of your PhD, you will personally know many of the researchers in your field, and they will know you. This is essential for getting a good postdoc or faculty job! The importance of getting to know the actual people in science cannot be overstated.

If you are an undergraduate student: if you work in my lab and are interested in going to a conference, mention it to me. Also, remember our expectations and outcomes table. Essentially going to a professional conference and presenting your results there will be a game-changer for applications to graduate school or any other future research career, and I am generally very willing to help fund such a trip if you think you qualify. Remember that these are professional meetings and so your poster will have to conform to the same standards as everyone else's - meaning, you should get lots of feedback from me, any other collaborators, and the lab. 

I can only pay towards your conference costs if you are either employed by me or enrolled as a student at the UA. You should consider this if planning to present your results towards the end of your career in the lab. Discuss well beforehand with me any concerns.  

Which conferences to go to:

This depends not only on what your project is, but also where you see yourself going in the future, and what your overall interests are like. Are you broadly interested in ecology? Are you interested in working as an applied entomologist in the future? Is animal behavior where your heart is? Ask others in the lab which conferences they go to and why. Here is my list of favorite conferences, roughly in order of my preference:

IUSSI - International Union for the Study of Social Insects: they have a big international meeting every 4 years (typically in the summer), which is my absolute favorite. Big meeting but you will quickly know a lot of the people because research is so related. A lot of behavior research presented here. Between the international meetings there is a national meeting of the North American Section of the society, which is small and mostly attended by students. Next meetings: (smaller) IUSSI-North American Section meeting in Portal, AZ Oct 16-18 2020; (big) International IUSSI meeting in San Diego, CA July 3-8 2022.

ISBE - International Society for Behavioral Ecology: big meetings every 2 years in the summer. Behavioral ecology is about studying behavior as adaptation to the animal's environment (which includes other animals). Somewhat vertebrate (bird) focused. A good meeting to go to if you want to be known in the wider animal behavior community. Next meeting: Melbourne, Australia, Sep 27 - Oct 2, 2020  

ESA - Entomological Society of America: Meetings are annual (typically in November) and huge. Lots of applied stuff (pest control, army entomologists, etc.). Has a sizable social insect component, which includes all aspects, including taxonomy, physiology, and behavior. Sometimes also has small satellite IUSSI meeting. Next meeting: St Louis, MO, Nov 17-20 2019.

ICE - International Congress of Entomology: a bit like ESA above but international. Very broad, including different topics and applications, just all about insects (not necessarily any bigger than ESA). Next meeting: Helsinki, Finland, July 19-24 2020.  

SICB - Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology (of America): This is the society that focuses on physiology and other organismal traits. Meetings are annual (typically in January). Lots of taxonomic diversity, lots of biology of individuals including morphology, behavior, development. Next meeting: Austin, TX, January 3-7 2020.

Evolution - The Society for the Study of Evolution (of America): Big meeting, a lot of genetics. Next meeting: Providence, RI, June 21-25 2019.

ABS - Animal Behavior Society (of America): Meetings are annual (in the summer) and typically smaller. Usually some social insect stuff here, but overall focus is more on vertebrates, particularly birds, although insects are playing a bigger and bigger role. Classic topics such as learning, social behavior, mating, foraging, but also various connections to behavioral ecology, evolution, genetics, physiology. Next meeting: Behaviour 2019 Chicago July 23-27 2019.

ESA - Ecological Society of America: Meetings are annual. This is a very big and diverse meeting, including global and community ecology. Next meeting: Louisville, Kentucky in 2019.

 

FUNDING

You need to plan at least a year ahead which conferences you will go to, mostly in order to get funding. You should never (!) not plan to go because you don't have money. There are several places you can ask for money, and you should try all of them together to maximize your chances of getting your trip completely funded. The bottom line for grad students and postdocs in my lab is that I am usually prepared to pay for flight, hotel, and registration for one conference a year assuming you have exhausted other possibilities of funding; for undergrad students, I am usually prepared to pay the same for one conference per person if you achieve the goals and expectations listed here

Where to get funding:

  • from the society organizing the conference
  • from the GPSC at the UA for graduate students
  • from the Institute of the Environment for graduate students
  • from WISE at the UA for women students
  • from CIS (ask Teresa Kudrna about travel awards)
  • through the Carter award for GIDP students
  • from your advisor
  • from the Honors College (if you are an undergraduate student)

When you are applying for money somewhere (whether for travel or other fellowships etc.), I strongly recommend that you prepare your material 1-2 weeks in advance of the deadline, and give it to Anna and one other person to read for feedback. There are many common mistakes such as not being general enough in your research description, not making clear why this conference/award specifically would be really useful, not preparing your CV in the academic standard. Also, to get the best recommendation letter possible, give your recommender a week's time and all your materials (and check this).

Make sure you ask more senior students for their past successful applications so you get an idea of what is required; also, if possible, try to get the specific rubric or criteria by which each award is given, and take it seriously to match those (i.e. frontload in your statement the information they actually want).

TRAVEL AUTHORIZATION

In addition, you need to get a 'Travel authorization' from the EEB main office (in BSW 310, ask LuAnn Cordero). You need to fill out a travel authorization form from this website. To do this, you need information about the conference (dates, place, website), what you are doing there (presenting and exchanging information, getting feedback), and how will you get there (car, plane, etc.) at least a week in advance. Do not submit this after the travel, it is annoying to others who have to work on this, and it jeopardizes your reimbursements.

REGISTRATION AND ABSTRACT SUBMISSION

Find out when the registration and abstract submission deadlines are. These are not always the same, and they may be as much as 9 months ahead of the conference. Always submit an abstract and ask for a talk if you have even a small amount of data. Usually the talks are 10-15 minutes. I recommend always giving a talk that summarizes more or less all (!) of your work to date (until you have more than 5 papers and worked in diverse areas). This gives you a chance to think about your work more broadly, what really the main interesting results are, and how they are relevant in the bigger picture.

If you do not get a talk, you can usually still present a poster. Posters are more work to prepare than talks, less reuseable, you will likely get a smaller audience, and you'll have to stand by your poster while others go drinking or use the time to network. But, giving a poster is still much better than not presenting - as you meet people at the conference, you can show them your poster (even outside the poster session) to better explain your research, and people interested in your work may go check it out by themselves.

If you are a postdoc or senior grad student, consider organizing a symposium. It is not that much work and a lot of reward. Ask Anna about it. The deadline for this may be more than a year before the conference.

The abstract should typically be around 200 words, you have to have an author list and a title, and it should state the main question and results as well as the broader context (why should we care about your research). However, many abstracts remain vague on the results and you are not required to include statistics or any numbers. The main aim is to see how interesting and broad your results are, and what section or symposium they might fit best into. 

THE ACTUAL PRESENTATION

Whether it is a poster or a talk, if you don't yet have a lot of experience with conferences, you should have it reviewed by me (Anna), all your coauthors, and a broader group such as the lab or your peer students. Posters in particular should be proofread several times.

Regarding authorship: generally it should be the same as the author list on the respective paper; this is especially true for posters. The order may be different and usually the presenter is the first author. If you are giving a broader talk that includes published work or parts of several papers, you don't have to make anyone else a coauthor; just list the coauthors in the acknowledgements to the talk, and if appropriate, list the references to the papers you are referring to. If the work is not published, it is generally appropriate to at least let all coauthors know that you are planning to present it - and if they have concerns about this, they should tell you.

Always print your poster before going, and bring it in a poster roll (plastic or cardboard or such). Always take your talk on a USB stick or similar in addition to having it saved somewhere in the cloud (e.g. Dropbox). Most conferences provide computers and require you to upload your talk beforehand (watch for announcements about this). 

WHAT ELSE TO PACK

People at most of the conferences listed above just wear what they wear every day (i.e. what you typically wear in the lab). Generally I would err on the covered up side (sleeves and not short shorts) but otherwise wear what you like and is comfortable for you. 

Pack a note-taking device. Perhaps this is a paper notebook and some pencils. I use an iPad with a stylus and the Notability app, but really you can use whatever you want. Just make sure it will last the day (battery charge!) and is something substantial enough (not a loose sheet of paper that you'll stuff into your suitcase and lose).

Biologists in my experience don't use business cards (although professional entomologists are more traditional and might do so). Simply give your email to people who would like to follow up with you, and write down emails from people with whom you want to follow up. I don't generally recommend giving out your personal phone number for professional purposes.

ORGANIZING TRAVEL

You'll need to get there and back, and you need a place to stay. Some conferences provide meals but most don't (except coffee breaks). It is generally a good idea to check with the rest of the lab to see who else is going to the same meeting; AirBnB for multiple people is often the cheapest and most comfortable solution, particularly if it is close to the venue and allows you to store/cook food. Some conferences also offer to match people who want to share a room (typically these are all students). Top priorities for lodging should be: safe space/location; ease and time to get to conference venue; shared with lab members or friends so you can commute as a group. I usually expect everyone to aim for a cost of less than $100/night/person, but if this is not reasonable do discuss it with me (I consider a more than 30 minute trip time to the conference venue unreasonable). I assume flights are booked in economy with a priority on low price, but again I consider layovers of several hours or arriving/leaving in the middle of the night unreasonable.

If you have not traveled a lot before, and for example have no experience with booking flights, rooms, or AirBnB, please do let me/others in the lab know and we're happy to walk you through the process. 

If I am funding your trip, you can ask for a travel advance in the travel authorization, or you may be able to book directly with a departmental P-Card (ask me about this). Otherwise, you'll have to upfront everything and get reimbursed afterwards by submitting all the original receipts to LuAnn in the main EEB office. Again, ask if you think this will cause problems for you or you have questions about it. 

BEING AT THE CONFERENCE

Look out for networking events or mentoring events targeted to your career stage. Look out for colleagues you already know, e.g. current and former lab members, advisors. If you know you are shy about meeting people, let your contacts know this and ask that they introduce you to relevant people, i.e. just other people who happen to be standing by the group, potential future mentors, or specific authors you are interested in meeting. If you are not shy, you can still ask that you are introduced, or you can just introduce yourself. Students walk up to me all the time at conferences and say 'Hi, I'm XXX, I always wanted to meet you' or '... I would love to show you my poster on YYY, which I think will interest you because it is similar to your work on ZZZ', or '... I read your paper on ZZZ and I loved it', or something of that nature. Everyone walks around with name tags so you should be able to recognize some names; yes this also has to do with preparing well for the conference (make a list of people you'd like to meet: authors, potential future advisors/collaborators, etc.). 

Carefully read the entire program to identify talks/posters you'd like to see. Make your own schedule for the conference based on that (some conferences develop a dedicated app or website that makes this easier; but not all). Do be willing to go to some talks on topics that are quite distant from your own just to get an idea what those folks do/are interested in, and to be broadly inspired and fascinated with the world around us and science in general. But do also check out most talks on your study organism or related to your question, and go to talks by people you already know - conferences can be overwhelming with the amount of information presented, and you'll probably remember and take away more concrete stuff from talks you already have some connection to. For the same reasons, try to reinforce connections to people you already know but only vaguely - e.g. go talk to that person who you applied to for grad school but didn't get in or didn't choose them; go talk to that author whose paper you read in journal club, or that seminar speaker who came to your institution previously. 

If I am funding your trip, I expect that you dedicate most of your waking hours to the conference (but that could include having informal conversations, e.g. in bars or over coffee, with other attendees at any career stage). [Note: never feel that drinking alcohol is required; nor that you are required to meet with anyone alone or away from the conference venue if that makes you uncomfortable. The more junior you are, the more you should aim to find a group of peers to hang out with.]

GOALS FOR CONFERENCES

(1) Become fascinated with the world again - conferences are the places where you see the forest for the trees, zoom out from your daily detailed/tedious methods and think about the big picture, both of your own research and just seeing all the interesting stuff that science does.

(2) Meet people - be part of that tribe of 'scientists'; learn that you can belong, see all the other nerds who like you are fascinated with finding out stuff and discussing it. But also meet concrete people, and this has many advantages direct and indirect: find future advisors, collaborators, mentors, students; impress future employers and colleagues; better remember papers/work by people because you connect it with a person and have seen them talk about and integrate it; make others better remember your work because they connect it with you as a person and have seen you talk about and integrate it into a big picture. 

(3) Be intellectually stimulated - in a more specific way, get ideas for future studies, broader/different viewpoints, and new methods. This is what most my notes from conferences are about.

(4) Get feedback - get specific input from questions and comments from people who hear your presentation; understand better how your approach, question, and results are perceived, and what connections other people do or don't see. 

I generally consider conferences to be one of the highlights of my job as a scientist, and I hope you will, too. Do report on your experiences good and bad, intellectual and in other ways, when you return.