BLS6: Why do scientists attend conferences?

Sometimes, with technology, we forget the value of face-to- face communication.

Much like anyone else, scientists are constantly subject to a barrage of information- papers, emails, newsletters, and more. While wading through all of this, it’s hard to find exactly what you might need. Perhaps there is a researcher currently working on something you’d like to study- besides word of mouth, sometimes it can be difficult to find these people! Enter the conference. These events bring together researchers who may or may not know one another, but who are all almost certainly working on similar research questions. Being a graduate student, I can honestly say that I have gained most of my working relationships within my field in a conference setting.

Conferences are also a learning opportunity. Learning about how different researchers cope with different problems (how do you make a tag small enough to fit on a swallow?) makes our own research better- the seal researcher is inspired to ask, why can’t my tags be smaller? To learn how animals survive in their environment, we must understand how they experience it. For example, this week we learned how acoustic tags on a bat can measure how they ‘see’ their environment through echolocation. A natural follow-up question for this is how echolocating marine mammals sense their world, and what we can learn through similar technology.

Nora Weyer telling us about how Aardvark ecophysiology was revealed by biologging

The Bio-Logging symposium in particular is so amazing. As one person commented, it’s like being in a nature documentary! Not only are there researchers here studying seals and marine mammals, but the research and technology presented here reaches every ecosystem on every continent of the globe. One minute we may be learning about aardvarks, the next eagles, and then we are diving in the ocean with a whale shark.

The Bio-logging society goals are equality, diversity, inclusiveness.

So each day, fueled by caffeine and enthusiasm for our science, we present our research, either published or unpublished, usually through posters and talks. By viewing what everyone can offer, you almost certainly walk away with some new information, and more importantly–new ideas. As if this weren’t enough, at this particular conference, we get to view some of the most amazing cutting-edge technology that is opening a whole new world of how we understand animals in their natural environment.

Coffee = Networking (Photo from Tweet)

And so perhaps the most valuable outcome of a conference is the feeling of wonder and enthusiasm you walk away with – of both human ingenuity and the natural world – that inspires you for months.

The bids for the next Bio-Logging Symposium in three years are already beginning to roll in; wherever we end up being, I know there will be good conversation, good science, and most importantly, good coffee to fuel the thought process.

Me hanging out with the swans, but thinking about foraging efficiency.

(Photo of Bio-Logging Attendance from Int’l Bio-Logging Society Twitter @biologging).

Written by: Sheanna Steingass

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