I suppose the worst-case-scenario would be presenting your findings at a meeting before they are published, followed by someone in the audience stealing the ideas. How that person could possibly get a manuscript out before you, who has presumably already done all the work, is beyond me. How someone on the internet, following the #ESA100 twitter feed, could learn enough in a few 140-character tweets to steal your research and publish it before you... seems like even more of a stretch. Especially when so many ecological experiments take years. And when the person most likely to scoop you is probably listening to your talk live, not trying to get a glimpse via Twitter.
This also completely disregards the importance of communicating science to the public or the benefits of your name being re-posted among the internet science community (especially for new or less-well-known scientists)!
Being scooped on accident is a real fear when so many ecologists do work that overlaps-- I definitely sweat a little any time I see a new publication that shares too many keywords with my dissertation work-- but I really just don't think ecologists are cutthroat enough to "scoop" on purpose (pharmaceutical researchers, maybe, but ecologists? Nah). Perhaps real the issue is with media attention for particularly "hot" studies? I'm not sure.
Anyway, in order to honor this ecological secrecy, I won't talk about new scientific findings (awww). Instead, here are tips I've learned and other musings from ESA last week.
I've attended ESA as a student for 3 years now, and I've stumbled across a few things that have really worked.
- Convince your advisor to organize a symposium that aligns with your research interests. Not only will it be an awesome way to hear what's new in your sector, it will be an awesome networking opportunity to meet researchers that have like interests. Invite everyone out for dinner afterward. [I didn't have this much forethought, but my advisor happened to organize a symposium, and I invited myself to the dinner and it was great... so everyone should do this!]
- GET ON TWITTER. Seriously. Even if you don't want to tweet all conference like I did, at least make it so that people can tweet about your talk. Don't prevent yourself from getting the free press. Here, I'll help you.
- Actually, do tweet all conference like I did. It's good practice communicating science (can you sum up the talk you just heard in 140 characters?) and networking (always search for the presenter on Twitter before you post). It promotes the science you're listening to, and promotes you as an engaging ecologist. What could be better? Just be sure not to tweet if someone asks you not to, or maybe skip the details on the talk that's "in press" at Science or Nature and might actually get media attention later. And don't spell people's names wrongs like I did Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. Or it it Karieva.....
- Keep a running list of new ideas, papers and people to look up, and things to do when you get back from the conference. You won't remember them all otherwise, or if you're like me, you won't remember any of them otherwise.
- Bring business cards! I'll confess I snickered at the first one I received, but by the 8th I knew I was the one out of touch with the times! Other students said they printed them through their school. I plan on getting my own ASAP!
Tips for presentations
Looking through my copious notes, I found a few gems that I wrote down purely to remind myself how to give a better presentation in the future. These tips are all inspired by the best and worst talks I saw this year.
- Thank those that protect your study sites. I have heard this approximately once ever (by Jonathan Bauer!) when it seems so obvious. Nature Conservancy, Forest Preserve District of My County, Parks Service, we are grateful. We just forget how grateful we are when we're in science mode.
- Set up your background, questions, and experiment-- then have the audience guess the result! I loved doing this in Kendi Davies' talk (although I had an advantage from seeing her speak at MSU in January).
- Don't talk faster when you're running out of time. Sorry, you might have to skip a few results slides. There's no point squeezing in all your figures if no one can understand you anymore.
- Some real public speaking skills go a long way. I was zoning out in a presentation when the speaker slowly said, "the key to understanding this paradox is simple..." and the room went silent. What is it!! What's the key to understanding the paradox!! It doesn't matter how interesting your subject matter is if you can give a good speech.
- Uh, who are you? I went to a few talks where the original speaker was replaced with a stand-in, but the stand-in mumbled or rushed through their name so fast (and didn't change the powerpoint) that I listened to the whole talk wondering who they were! This is ridiculous. Tell us who you are. Take the 10 seconds to add your name to the title slide, and put it again on a "thank you" slide at the end.
- Be positive!! I hear all the time how a good attitude is good for your career, your relationships, blah blah blah. But a good attitude is also essential for communicating science, especially when the environment is involved and we're so used to the "gloom and doom" tactics that don't work with the public. What are we good at, and what could use improvement? Not: we're failing at this, this is a misconception, global biodiversity will all be lost if... etc.
Best of ESA: My favorite quotes
- "ESA's goal for the next centennial? Having more bronies than ecologists at the convention center." [David Inouye, ESA president]
- "The glass is half full when the world is viewed with an eye for restoration." [Loralee Larios]
- "We're able to [turn a corn field into a prairie] relatively consistently and that's awesome!" [Jonathan Bauer]
- "Please don't take up smoking as a result of this talk!" [Carolyn Ayers found that bees under the influence of neonicotinoid (think "nicotine") pesticides were more active. Just like people smoking. Luckily, she left us with a disclaimer on the risks of cigarettes. Ha!]
- "Are you, or someone you love, in an unhealthy relationship with the biodiversity-ecosystem function debate?" [I sadly forget what the punchline of the quote was exactly-- biodiversity, or BEF, or biodiversity-stability... but this intro had the crowd LOL'ing in Devan McGranahan's talk. Symptoms include: thinking biomass production is the best metric for "ecosystem function", frequently vocalizing strong opinions on David Tilman...]
- "Are you trying to build a bridge or are you trying to have a dance party?" [I don't know who said it, but knowing your goals and your target audience is always important, ha!]
- "Let's strive for hybrid vigor, not inbreeding depression, in the types of ecologists we produce." [Leanne Jablonski explains that we should encourage ecologists with different skills and different interests, rather than railroading everyone. ]
- "Do not mistake congress as representative of the public-- the number 1 reason people support the Nature Conservancy is because it's supported by science." [Peter Kareiva]
What everyone is talking about
Life outside academia! From outreach as scientists, to preparing for non-academic career paths, to embracing your personal beliefs, there was a lot of talk at ESA that wasn't "just" about science. Some highlights:
- Watch out for issues that have taken on a "false political reality" like climate change-- the harm that's been done is too politicized, but we can talk together about the action to be done [Terry Chapin for Carl Safina]
- Science is worthless unless it is shared with others, yet academics incentivized to focus only on peer reviewed journals-- write more, share more, do more [Julie Reynolds]
- Create your own "brand" and sell it; become the local expert in your field; get known [Julie Reynolds & Ken Klemow]
- Celebrate your religious and ethical motivations, it does not compromise your objectivity, it provides common ground for effective communication [Terry Chapin for Carl Safina]
- "If you're gonna be pro-life, you'd better care about the environment" [Dorothy Boorse on reaching conservatives on environmental justice issues]
- Getting just 8%* of Catholics in the U.S. [5.6 million people] to take [environmental] action would be more than the entire global WWF [5 million members globally]. [Dan Misleh] *Changed from 5%
- 71% of ESA members said they belonged to a faith community [of hundreds of respondents, said Greg Hitzhusen]
- How to reach out to faith communities? People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. [Greg Hitzhusen]
I left ESA absolutely buzzing with new ideas, new friends, and a pocket full of business cards. I can't wait for the next conference-- and especially for ESA 2016 in Portland!
What was your favorite part of #ESA100?? Leave a comment!