Weta and wine; thoughts on the NZ Entomology Conference 2013

Introduction

I’d would like to interrupt our regularly scheduled program (haha what?) to talk about the conference I went to last week. From what I can understand, scientific conferences are a means of disseminating information about new protocols, new fields of research and providing a platform for industry representatives to explain new initiatives and outline any restructuring that government departments may be going through. For smaller conferences such as this one, they’re also a good opportunity for graduates to present their work in an academic environment and to meet with potential supervisors.

My only previous scientific conference experience was one day at the Entomological Society of New Zealand (ESNZ from now on) conference in 2012 and posts on whatshouldwecallgradschool.tumblr.com. From my experiences with the latter, I went in expecting terrified students and free comfort food.

I went with the purpose of presenting my honours project from last year because apparently that’s what grown up academics do and because it’s also good practice learning how to condense a year’s worth of anxiety and biology into a ten minute talk and powerpoint presentation. Having said that, there probably isn’t much left once you’ve trimmed out the anxiety part. On one hand, my performance would have no impact on any grades and there would be no written record of assessment. On the other hand, I would also be presenting to a room of people who have no personal investment in my success and who could tear me to pieces with impunity and with no fear of having to see me skulking like a wounded spaniel around their office the next week.

Methods and materials:

This survey was conducted at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand from the 2nd – 6th of April. There were 57 registered attendees, the lowest it’s been for the last couple of years. Our Auckland contingent consisted of 11 people.

If you haven’t been to a conference before, this is generally how things seem to work.

  1. Listen to a 12 minute talk followed by 3 minute question time. Repeat four to five times.
  2. Leave lecture theatre to forage for biscuits and tea. (For the brave, accost the interesting speaker/potential supervisor or employer during this period. If you are hung-over from conference dinner or are recovering from gastro, go find the UoA students because they’ve probably found a quiet nook to hide in and talk about how scary it all is.)
  3. Lady at reception walks around the group ringing a bell to herd the sheeple back into the lecture theatre (Remember that my conference sample size is n = 1.3).
  4. Rinse and repeat.

As well as the talks during the day, the cost of registration usually also entails a conference dinner during which students, industry and academics can meet in a neutral location and have the rusted wheels of human conversation greased by an ad libitum application of wine and tapas.

Results:

There were 42 talks at the conference and the break-down of the nature of these talks is shown in Fig. 1. Meanwhile, Fig. 2 shows the distribution of topics for the conference, namely what proportion of talks each day was about weta. The largest number of weta talks occurred on the first day and to be quite frank 7/16 talks on weta is just a bit too many dammit. All weta talks were presented by students at Massey University which, unsurprisingly, was the most strongly represented academic institution present at the conference (Fig. 3). The fact that other North Island Universities had the second largest contingents pretty strongly indicates that students are poor and that people hate travelling long distances although the last part might just be me.

Fig.1: Break-down of talks depending on who they were coming from.

Fig.1: Break-down of talks depending on who they were coming from.

Fig. 2: Of those talks associated with a university (i.e. by students and their supervisors), the university of origin for those talks.

Fig. 2: Of those talks associated with a university (i.e. by students and their supervisors), the university of origin for those talks.

 

Fig. 3: Too many.

Fig. 3: Too many.

While I have no numerical data on this I did observe that the University of Auckland table at the conference dinner was somewhat magnetic (Fig.4) . At t = 0, bottles of Matua valley private bin were roughly equally distributed around all the tables. By t = 5 hrs, many more of them were at the Auckland table and these accumulated despite displacement of some UoA members to other tables.

Fig. 4: EntoSoc Conference dinner arrangement at the start of the evening (t = 0) and at the end (t = 5) Roma’s showing number of seated attendees (n), and distribution of red wine. (White wine not shown because it would probably be too sad).

Fig. 4: EntoSoc Conference dinner arrangement at the start of the evening (t = 0) and at the end (t = 5) Roma’s showing number of seated attendees (n), and distribution of red wine. (White wine not shown because it would probably be too sad).

This is merely observational so I am unable to draw any conclusions from this event. However, I did learn that the operative word for Matua Valley Private Bin wine is ‘BIN’.

Discussion:

My general assessment of this particular conference for this year was that, due to its small size, it was an ideal platform for students as a large number of speakers a large proportion of the attendees were students and their supervisors. As entomology covers a wide range of disciplines (phylogeography, behavioural biology, molecular ecology, natural history etc. etc.) there is perhaps less to be gained for those looking for new and exciting ways to conduct their own research rather it’s a means for supervisors and graduates investigating other research options to scout out what is being studied in other academic institutions (go to Massey, they have weta).

Conclusions:

Beat poetry is the way to go for my next conference talk.

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