April 2, 2012 | by Nick Snead
I am very humbled and feel blessed every time I am given the opportunity to attend a science conference. I was at my previous institution when I went to my first “real” science conference in the summer of 2008. I had attended several on-campus seminars from in-house PI’s, only a few of whom really touched on my area of research. But when my mentor suggested I attend an off-campus “real” conference, I didn’t really know what to expect. The conference was hosted at Northwestern University, focusing on RNA interference (RNAi), the topic of my research. I arrived very early in the morning (~7:30am) to enjoy the complimentary continental breakfast spread. And then, all of a sudden: Dr. Craig Mello (Nobel Prize winner, 2006) walks in, grabs a bagel, and sits in a nearby seat. In my current lab, we have a postdoc who had been a member of Dr. Mello’s lab previously. I confirmed with him - the cargo pants, outdoor-sy fleece vest, long sleeve T-shirt attire he was wearing that summer of 2008 is Dr. Mello’s usual look.
Back to the conference: I was a little star-struck - I was too nervous to strike up a conversation with him right away. Eventually I built up the courage, and we talked about some small topics. I had seen a YouTube video of a talk he gave at, of all places, Google, and how he tried to make his presentation as lay-friendly as possible. He asked a little about my research, and where I was going to grad school, etc.
The main thing I want to convey, though, is how I learned that conferences save me time. In a nutshell, after hearing any single PI’s 45-min talk, I essentially had absorbed at least 2-3 papers’ worth of information - that might be 3-4 years worth of research! It is so efficient! It saves me so much reading! Don’t get me wrong - I think reading is one of the most important things to do in biomedical science research and graduate school (stay tuned for a future post?). But, it was really nice to have a compact, condensed, well-formulated dose of science that now I don’t have to re-trace and re-read papers myself just to get the gist of their studies.
So, if there was any good reason to go to a scientific conference (including the awesome opportunity to travel - stay tuned for yet another future post?), I would say the ability to learn about the last 3-4 years of a researcher’s progress in just 45 minutes is really nice.