The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biologists have been been meeting since 1960. Over this time the the meeting has been held in high esteem for many scientists and continues to evolve (forgive me). We reached out to a few of the recent participants at the latest SICB meeting in San Francisco to ask them about their overall impression of the meeting.
Our first review and reflection was with Dr. Greg Pask of Bucknell University, whose primary area of research focuses on the neurobiology of olfactory communication in insects. His work was recently made into an infographic by Pineapples & Whales:
Dr. Greg Pask (@G_Pask) just started his Assistant Professor position at Bucknell, a predominantly undergraduate institution (PUI). Dr. Pask has not attended SICB previously and did not bring any students, as he was searching for a conference that would work well for his future research students and himself.
“The most eye-opening part of my first time attending SICB were all the interesting topics being discussed. I found it extremely difficult to plan my day when scanning through the program book (that’s really a good problem). For example, how am I expected to attend one session that includes ant and bee talks when another session called “Superfast! Power Amplification!” is at the same time? (If you’re wondering, I went to the latter and got to hold a trap-jaw ant-inspired device… no regrets!). The diversity of research questions and their associated organisms is surely part of the allure of SICB, and it appeals to me on several levels: as a teacher, a mentor, and a storyteller.”
“As graduate students and postdocs, we often take such a narrow focus and become leading experts on that one thing. Five years ago, my working memory consisted of all things insect olfaction and I could describe figures and conclusions from most papers in the field. But now as a professor, I’ve had to expand my expertise because every class can’t be about how insects smell things 😉 The model of a SICB session also mirrors how I prefer to teach. “Ok class, we’re about to go in-depth on this specific question in biology, and then we’ll look at all the possible ways of finding answers to that question.” But in each SICB session, I get to become the student again, absorbing information that can likely find its way onto my next syllabus.”
“As a mentor to undergraduate students, the diversity of research presented at SICB is a big plus. It would be unreasonable for me to assume that all of my research students will pursue a future in insect chemosensation. And it would be a disservice to them! I want my researchers to have a solid training in the approaches of scientific inquiry while also being exposed to all its possibilities. The SICB meeting can offer this to my students. Hell, even if they all felt obligated to come to my own talk in the Animal Communication session, they’d also learn about cephalopods, lizards, spiders, and fish! And perhaps a student might have his/her interest piqued in a particular SICB session and begin to fall down the rabbit hole toward a new field and, hopefully, a successful research career.”
“Lastly, when a given SICB session ranges from vertebrates to invertebrates to fungal zoospores, there isn’t any silent understanding among the audience about why that organism is an ideal study species. The presenter must explain this (aka tell the story!). Several talks and posters had me thinking at first, What kind of organism is this? to the later realization of Yeah, that is a great animal to explore the research question! And although you as a presenter may have to sacrifice the discussion of some datasets to tell this story, who cares? If you successfully grab the audience with your storytelling, they may continue to follow all the sequels you publish later!”
In conclusion, Dr. Pask reflects on his first experience at this rapid paced and sometimes overwhelming meeting:
“I’ll be a SICBer for quite some time. I’m truly looking forward to bringing my students to SICB and then, in the classroom, bringing SICB to my students.”
- So many interesting talks and posters
- Organization by research focus rather than organism
- Seamless integration of both graduate and undergraduate student presentations
- Emphasis on storytelling
- 2AM earthquake while sleeping on the 29th floor
- Not enough time!