I’ve just returned from the 58th annual meeting of the US Biophysical Society in San Francisco. With around 7,000 scientists, multiple simultaneous sessions of talks and nearly a thousand posters every day, it is a large event, but not as big as many. Even so, working out what talks and posters you might want to see is a difficult task. Of course, you might not wish to prepare a schedule as this is somewhat of a personal thing, but I find it helpful just to know how the days will ebb and flow – if today is busy, will tomorrow be a bit quieter and let me recover? If I bump into someone I want to talk to, what will I miss? What posters might be interesting on the other side of the exhibition hall? I emphasise that attending interesting talks and seeing posters are not the only things one does at these conferences – talking to people is useful and fun too – but having that side of it organised does, I find, take your mind off “the next thing”.
Not my title, but the title of the half-day workshop I’ve just attended led by Helen Sword, an academic from New Zealand. It was extremely thought-provoking and has made me question how I write. Please see her webpage, Writer’s Diet for more information and resources. I’d especially recommend the “Writer’s Diet Test” where you can paste up to 1000 words and get it rated for how flabby or fit your prose is (and no I’m not telling).
Ok, so you are presenting a poster at a scientific conference. You’ve done the research, prepared and printed the poster and pinned it to the board, the poster session is approaching and you really want some feedback on your results and ideas. How do you maximise the number of people you talk to?
“There was some good science in that seminar.”
“Yes? Sorry I feel asleep shortly after the first slide of maths.”
Familar? I expect every scientist occasionally gets the feeling that perhaps the person speaking is saying something interesting and important in say at a conference but why can’t they understand it? And why show us so much maths in such a small typeface?
Why do I feel slightly uncomfortable with this exchange? Well I think my discomfort begins with what is implied by “good science”. The exchange above implies that is an an abstract output such as an idea, an experimental result or a theory.