SEB Conference: A review

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I spent last week in Prague at a brilliant biology conference: Society for Experimental Biology‘s annual main meeting. As I’m now back in PhD-land, I thought I’d try stave away the post-conference blues with a review of the conference, the people, and the city!

This is my second attendance at an SEB meeting, the first being in Salzburg  in 2012, when I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree. On that occasion I gave a talk – I was terrified! My talk was unfortunately scheduled for the day after the infamous Wine Trail – one of SEB’s many fun (and free!) social evenings. I fear I may have tried to quell my nerves with slightly far too much wine… but nevertheless, the talk went well. Even back then with no other conference experience to compare it to, I was pleasantly surprised at the friendliness and understanding of the meeting’s attendees. My experiences at this year’s meeting can only reinforce that view – from PhD students to Professors, everyone seems to empathise with one another’s position, and act accordingly. There seems to be an unwritten rule that nobody unnecessarily grills PhD students, for example – because after all, we’re still learning!

There was a lovely Twitter community of attendees using the meeting’s official hashtag #SEBAMM, both to chat to each other and to inform those who weren’t able to make the meeting. It was my first time live-tweeting at conference and I have to say, I really enjoyed it!

I’ll start off by discussing the social side of SEB, and Prague, before moving onto the most important part… the Science!

The Socials

SEB is a VERY social conference. There were (optional) socials every night apart from one, and throughout the day there are endless refreshment breaks as another opportunity to network. Included in the conference fee is lunch every day (which was amazing), as much tea & coffee as you could ever want, and some of the socials, too (some required a small ticket price, but very reasonably priced for what you get). There’s the Pre-Conference Networking event on the first night (one free drink & dinner), the Wine Trail (totally free, with MUCH wine to “sample” & dinner), the Women In Science dinner, and the Conference Dinner on the final night, which is a nice sit-down three-course meal, with THREE HOURS of free alcohol. And at the SEB conference dinner, you dance. It’s a predictably good night that doesn’t disappoint!

The City

Prague is a beautiful city! It was my first time there, and I booked my flights so that I had half a day on either end of the conference to look around the city. I highly recommend it – food & drink is super cheap (~£10 for two courses and beer) and very pretty! And very warm – almost too warm. On the day I left we walked up to the castle in 35 °C heat! I wish I’d had longer to visit places but I’ll definitely go back for a holiday.

The Sessions

I opted in for the Careers Day on the day before the main conference began, run by the wonderful Sarah Blackford (SEB’s Head of Education & Public Affairs; see her twitter & blog). This was a really good session for general networking and meeting other early-career scientists, and we discussed how to get the most out of your research (e.g. by becoming members of learned societies, volunteer work, industry awareness etc.). We also did much brainstorming (tweet by friend & colleague Dr Zoë Self)…

The second part of the day featured two parallel sessions: one on preparing CVs, and one on publishing. I chose the publishing session, run by Mary Williams (Features Editor of The Plant Cell) and Bennet Young (Assistant Editor of the Journal of Experimental Botany). For someone like myself who has yet to publish a paper, there were loads of good insights into what goes on behind the scenes at a journal once you submit a manuscript, and ways to figure out which journal(s) may be a good fit for your work.

Then the main conference began! SEB has a wide variety of biological sessions, ranging from genetics, cell biology, neurobiology and plant biology. Of course, I was particularly interested in the animal biology talks – particularly biomechanics. We were treated to two whole days of biomechanics talks, which is actually a reduction on previous years. There were some cracking talks, ranging from grizzly bear locomotion (Katie Shine), muscle efficiency in budgies (Alex Evans) and measuring Pac-Man frog tongue forces (Dr Thomas Kleinteich).

On the Thursday, I was excited to see a whole day of arthropod talks in the programme! There were some amazing high-speed videos, including one of a jumping praying mantis presented by Dr Gregory Sutton (who gave a brilliant talk!). It got some BBC coverage too! There were some really cool talks: arachnid foot pad adhesion (Jonas Wolff), gear mechanisms in flies (by Jonathan Page) and cool stuff on strength of fangs and claws in spiders (Dr. Osnat Younes-Metzler).

How best to round off a great day of arthropod research? With a poster session, of course! This was the second of two poster sessions, and the one where I presented my poster. Some lovely helpful people came to talk to me, after my plea the day before at the Pecha Kucha (a one-slide, one-minute advert for your poster – a fab idea!) asking for anyone with experience in analysing large datasets to come chat to me. They didn’t disappoint! Got some great comments and suggestions and new contacts for the future.

I'm not good at serious photos.

I’m not good at serious photos.

Then, finally, the last day of the conference. The session of particular interest to me was on movement ecology, with some great new methods on tracking animals and visualising the data. In the afternoon, our head-of-lab Prof. Alan Wilson gave a talk about cheetah tracking, so all attending lab members were out in force for support!

So, all in all, SEB is a wonderful conference that caters for scientists in the very earliest stages of their careers, all the way to top Profs and academics. It’s sociable, friendly, and has some cracking science. I definitely came away having learnt some new things, made some new friends and contacts, and with a fresh enthusiasm for analysing my PhD data. A successful week all round! If you’re searching for a biology conference to attend next year, I can highly recommend SEB 2016, which will be in the lovely UK seaside town of Brighton! Hope to see you there!

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