Goin’ back to Cali


After my recent trip to San Diego, I’m heading back to California for the ACS meeting in San Francisco. The meeting looks great (especially for us chemical biology types); if you want to see what I’ll be up to (and some of the other NPG editors), check out our editor’s choice site (I know, Josh already told you that).

What’s on my mind at the moment, though, is the overall organization of the meeting.

Can we make any sense out of the variation in assigning anything from 20-45 minutes to each speaker? Is it the ongoing conflict of wanting to accommodate more speakers versus really giving them the chance to say something? Is it a statement on the standards of behavior for the different subsections? Or is it all about the seniority of the speaker? Of course we wouldn’t see graduate students giving plenary lectures, but I have seen some pretty established/respected professors lined up for 20 minute slots.

As a side note: The bonus of finding a session filled with 20-minute talks by professors is that it’s likely that you will come out of the session with 8 times more information in your head than was there going in. The bad part about risking your time on a session without professors is that information may have actually leaked out of your head by the time you can gather your wits enough to leave. (Please note that I say this as one who gave a student seminar not that long ago…)

How can graduate students get more out of the meeting than just a rambling haze of science, intermingled with rambling hazes revolving around drink tickets redeemed at their friends’ poster sessions? Certainly my first ACS meetings were overwhelming, with the number of talks that I ‘must see’ filling more hours than I had and the uptake on new scientific information limited to the first day or two before my brain got full. Students and postdocs on the job hunt seem to be much more focused and calm. Perhaps the secret is going in on a mission?

How can everyone get more out of the poster sessions? These events have become so huge that it’s almost impossible to find anyone or anything on purpose. My recent experiences have pretty much relied on wandering around and looking for interesting stuff, regardless of whether it’s related to my work at all. To be fair, I’ve met some great people and found out about amazing work that way, but theoretically poster sessions could serve a much more important function of meeting people in your field to share ideas and experimental advice.

What are your thoughts on ACS meetings? How do you get the most out of them? What, in fact, does it mean to ‘get the most out of them’ when there are talks to be listened to, jobs to be interviewed for, free pens to be accepted, a new city to be seen…? Let me know, and I’ll try to put your advice into practice. Alternatively, you can wait for the meeting updates and see how my new secret plan works.

Catherine Goodman (Assistant Editor, Nature Chemical Biology)

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