Jan
08

Bottom of the barrel at #SICB2015

I’m sitting in a corner of the West Palm Beach airport, dreading flying from a balmy 80 degrees to the snow and ice in D.C. right now. Ah well, #SICB2015 has been more than good to me. (That’s the official hashtag, hah.)

Eli left in the morning yesterday so I got up and met him for breakfast instead of going to some talks. I was said to see him go because I don’t know when I will see him again. Next year’s SICB is in Portland… I guess I’ll have to find a way to go. This really is a unique meeting. It’s not that any other of the conferences I’ve attended haven’t been full of friendly people or neat, mind-blowing science. It’s just that this one has a particular vibe to it. I’ve met so many inspiring people.

Through Eli, I met a postdoc from Illinois named Loren, a postdoc from Chile named Paulina, and a professor at the University of Michigan named Ben Dantzer. I felt so lucky to have the chance to hang out with them. On Tuesday night, we found a mexican restaurant that was having a “taco tuesday.” Mojitos were half price and Eli and I ordered all you can eat tacos. I think we both ate like, 15. And the other three made fun of us.

I did go to two talks in the morning after breakfast on Wednesday. They were both on hormone concentrations in monogamous social birds, which was really neat. The first one was about bird divorce and it was the most packed lecture room I had seen the whole meeting. The researcher found that cortisol (or some other hormone? I think it was cort) correlated with bird partners splitting up and finding new mates. Although it was a purely correlational study, that’s still pretty cool.

In the afternoon, I went for a run and found the beach. West Palm Beach is set up with tall buildings to the point that you don’t really feel like you’re close to the beach, but I’m glad I found it. It was so nice to spend an hour or two out there. I met my two roommates, Laura and Natalie, down there. I’m so glad that I met them, too. We are going to try to meet up in New York when I’m there for interviews in the next month or so.

I went to the last lecture of the meeting too. It was by a guy named John Jungck at the University of Delaware who specializes in theoretical biology and integrating quantitative reasoning with biology, especially concerning science education. It might have been my favorite talk of the whole meeting. He said so many things that resonated with me – like “we require so many undergraduates to take calculus but then their introductory biology textbooks have fewer than five equations in them” and “why shouldn’t students be able to use calculators on the AP Bio test? In what world would they not have access to computers and calculators in real research?” (Preach, John.) He is clearly a brilliant man and has done some incredible things with modeling beautiful biological phenomenon. The coolest part might have been how every incredible modeling image he showed in his presentation had been made by undergraduate students. Amazing. A professor at W&M, Drew LaMar, who is technically my adviser, is involved with Dr. Jungck’s biomath initiative. Which I kinda knew – at least that Dr. LaMar was involved in some kind of nation-wide biomath program. I’d like to look further into that.

After this lecture was the society-wide social (yum) and then several of us went to the Mellow Mushroom across the street. They had half price beers for anyone with a conference name tag, which was awesome, and I split a large bbq chicken pizza with Natalie, one of my roommates, a bird research PhD student from Cornell named Joe, and Ben Dantzer, Eli’s friend from grad school. We were joined by a woman named Annabelle and one of the meeting’s keynote speakers, Jodie Rummer. Later we were joined by another group. We sat outside and drank beer and chatted about being a bbq sauce snob when you’re from Kansas City, how Jodie’s partner was afraid she might have Ebola (Jodie wrote back that the six scientists sitting with her vouched for her NOT having Ebola), the various places in science positions everyone had been since their undergrad days, honking in NYC versus the quiet of Colonial Williamsburg, and a million other things. The coolest thing about it was that we had all met less than four or five days ago, and we had all been introduced to each other via other people we had met no more than four or five days prior. It was just the most enjoyable evening with the best company I can think of.