A Tale of Two Conferences, Part I

This month, I had the opportunity to attend two conferences for work, and I'm going to fill you in on them, as well as what conferences can be like. These were both professional conferences for a specific scientific audience, but very different in their scope, execution, and most of all, swag.

[Okay, so the swag isn't that great - my dad is in corporate-level IT and his conference swag game is strong]

So I've already mislead you a bit; there was one symposium and one conference. As I learned last year when I went to the Artificial Light and Wildlife Symposium in 2014 - a symposium is for a specific issue or field, whereas a conference is likely larger and open for variation and different fields. But I digress. I attended the 68th International Symposium on Crop Protection in Gent, and the InsightOut, a conference for women in science in Ede. This post will be split into two parts (hence the title), with this first part on the ISCP.

Inner garden area of Universiteit Gent, where the 68th ISCP was held

Part I: The 68th International Symposium on Crop Protection 

The ISCP was last week in Belgium, which was great - I was able to visit my sister in Leuven at the same time, and as for the conference, it was very insightful into what crop protection/biocontrol conferences can be like for content, as well as the environment in Belgium. I arrived in Gent, ready to head to the university, and proceeded to take the wrong tram. So a great start to that day. But being a little bit late wasn't a huge problem, these things rarely start on time. There was quite a crowd with hundreds of attendees and seven parallel sessions in the morning and afternoon. Attendees were a mix of agriculture researchers, industry representatives, policy researchers, and ecologists/biologists like myself, both from companies and from universities. I stuck to my field of interest in the morning, Agricultural Entomology and Acarology (Entomology is the study of insects, whereas Acarology is the study of acarids such as like mites). Lots of mite talk, which was to be expected, as mites make up quite a bit of the research focus as well as economic focus of biological control.

I could give you a breakdown of every single presentation I saw but suffice it to say, it was fairly Belgium-centric (this makes sense, it's a Belgian conference despite being an International Symposium), with some presentations on projects being undertaken at Biobest (Belgian biocontrol company), and a really interesting study from Hilde Wustenberghs involving aspects of sociology re: Belgian tomato growers and use of pesticides (would they ever go pesticide-free? not likely, $$ plays a huge role), as well as more application-based studies such as flower strips for strawberries --- Again, I can't describe them all. And what I noticed was a there was a lack of genetic work in my session, as well as a lack of parasitoids. I spent some of my afternoon session in the nematode room as there were some genetic-based talks there. Therefore, I definitely foresee myself submitting an abstract for this conference next year with my own work, and I think it would have a great reception, so, something to plan for!

One of two poster sessions at the 68th ISCP
And if not a presentation, then a poster. Poster sessions are hard to explain to folks outside of research -- lectures and seminars make sense, but what are poster sessions and how are they useful? Essentially, they're part communication and part competition, and allow scientists to share information to large amounts of people without needing a stage and a microphone and a specific session at a conference to do so. The contents are likely to be an intro explaining a problem, the experiment they did, and the results, all in  a super short form with some graphs and pictures. They are posted in a separate room or area for people to view, mostly at a specific time or inbetween coffee breaks, and often there are prizes for best posters (selected either by a panel or by vote).
I've put some poster examples below to give you a sense, and for those familiar with scientific posters, you should be happy to know that portrait format is still in vogue!
"Cold hardiness of Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophilidae) in Belgium" from M. de Ro et al (ILVO, Merelbeke, Belgium)
"Landscape plant composition differentially influences aphid parasitoids in fruit orchards" from A. Alhmedi et al (pcfruit vzw, Sint-Truiden, Belgium)

"Effects of selected release methods on the establishment of predatory mirids in greenhouse tomatoes" from M. Nannini et al (Agris Sardegna, Cagliari, Italy)

"New records of biological control agents in Slovenia in the period 2012-2014" from S. Trdan et al (University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Ljubljana, Slovenia)

"Effects of different foods and essential oils on bumblebees" from Y. Ulu et al (S├╝leyman Demirel University, Isparta, Turkey)

So overall, a nice conference, not so much networking as I was ill (and myself, I'm a bad networker but I was too sick to shake hands at this point), great catering an hosting from UGent, and I will try to go back next year with some data to present!

Oh, and my swag? There were pens and notepads and the usual, but the best piece was the lanyard, a secret swag item that I didn't figure out until days later at home:

Spoiler alert: it was mainly promotional material and an attendance list but STILL! #surpriseswag
If you're interested in some of the posters or talks I've presented here, click here for the full programme. My only complaint? No official hashtag, but luckily, I was able to retweet the majority of tweets from the Emphasis Project, as we were in the same morning session and they had their shit together and were on point re: Twitter.

Next week: A Tale of Two Conferences, Part II!


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