Saturday, July 5, 2008

Conference Noises

Would you say that a scientists first conference is like his first kiss*, a unique experience, never forgotten despite the fumbling and nervousness? Or is it more like the first time you went to a McDonald's: Sure, it's exciting and colourful, but after you've been a few dozen times you notice that they're all the same.

I couldn't say yet which of these is a better description, since I've only just experienced my first conference. Conference might be saying a bit much: It was a one-day symposium, and I didn't even have to leave the city.

Still, there were some memorable experiences to be made. Some were of the mundane variety: It seems that even in Britain, coffee break means coffee break, and not tea break. And don't even dare ask for water. Also, pinning your badge to your shirt is a fashion faux-pas; the correct place is discreetly on your belt.

The poster session was different from what I expected, because there were really only posters. Somehow, I always expected the poster creators to be standing next to them with proud smiles, eager to explain their science to anyone passing by. Not so here: There were posters, there were people reading the posters, and that was it.

The talks ranged from the fascinating to the mystifying. I've always been better at learning things from papers than at picking them up in lectures, so it's no surprise that I couldn't follow some of the more complicated topics. Listing to those lectures was not a waste of time, though, since at least now I know those topics exist and I can find out more about them (by reading papers!) if I want to.

The quality of the speakers varied (doesn't it always?) but some of them were very good, even inspirational. There are so many unsolved problems in bioinformatics, but these speakers were pointing the way to solving many of them.

Now for the more disappointing part of the symposium. No, not the food, that was alright. This is something that I'm willing to be not many attendees even noticed, but it's actually a huge statistical fluke if it was random: Out of 15 speakers, not a single one was female. I'm used to gender bias in my field, especially on the informatics side, but 0 out of 15? Seriously? You're telling me that there's not a single female professor that you could have invited to talk about her research?

At least many of the people in the audience were female, but jeez!

*With the first conference occasionally preceding the first kiss by a while.