Monday, October 12, 2015


I recently attended a conference for work. This is not all that unusual of an occurrence for me as I take part in roughly half a dozen of these types of meetings every year. This one happened to be one of the larger ones in my field and takes place every other year. As the conference was held at the Marriott just up the street from my lab, I arrived early on the first day so that I could get registered and then find my seat in the auditorium. Things went a bit quicker than I had planned for and I had about 45 minutes to kill before the start of the opening session. I pulled out my laptop, connected to the wifi network, and proceeded to do a few things. From my vantage point in the meeting room, I had a pretty good view of the lobby of the conference center. As part of the meeting, a continental breakfast was setup and every now and then I peered out into the lobby and could do a bit of people watching.

It was kind of interesting how the more senior folks just fell into step and looked completely at ease in this venue. However, the graduate students and postdocs were bouncing off the walls in their nervous excitement. Even if they were just standing quietly, they still were easily picked out. Many years ago, I was one of those hyper-excited newbies. Thirsty, but nervous and nearly overwhelmed, tight-roping on the edge of sensory overload.

My first talk at a major international conference was in the early 1990s in Washington, D.C.. I was a new graduate student and had a major case of the butterflies. However, I had memorized my talk and managed to finish reciting my final words just as the timer went off. I got one softball question and managed to answer it in a few words before I happily fell back into my seat. A bit later in the session, another student was giving her talk when the fire alarm went off. About 20 minutes later the alarm was cleared and we resumed the session. The chairman asked the student to pick up where she left off when the alarm sounded. She turned stark white and exclaimed, "I only know it from the beginning!"