Making sense of all that science or maybe not?

With INTECOL firmly behind me (phew) and my research project stretching out in front of me I found myself sitting at my desk today wondering what my next blog post should contain.

I was thinking that perhaps I should revisit some of the notes that I took at conference and write a second INTECOL post when a blog about taking the most from conferences arrived in my inbox. Now, while this advice may be a bit late for me this year, it did make me think. The main plank of the advice proffered seems to be that the social aspect of conference (networking and team building rather than just drinking for its own sake!) is by far the most important. It is true enough that anyone wishing to get more detail on the science presented at a conference need only Google the author and get a PDF from the horses mouth.So perhaps my time was well spent on those late nights after all!

As a junior scientist at the end of my first conference season it is not really the detailed science which is vexing me, I have an altogether bigger problem! I started the summer with interests in a couple of different areas and hoping that I would narrow this down and find a subject to specialise in but I have been exposed to so many interesting people that I now have broader interests! Just how do you choose, or perhaps you wait to be chosen!

Finally my kids went through the stuff I bought back from London and Henry (age 8) saw the INNGE badge and asked what it stood for. When I told him he said “did you bring that for me because I am the next generation of ecologists?”  “Of course” I replied. He is already working on his French for 2017!

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A view from INTECOL and beyond.

This year I have been privileged to gain a place on the BES undergraduate fellowship and this allowed me to attend  the annual meeting which was held, in conjunction with INTECOL,  at the ExCel in London. It was particularly poignant since this is the centenary year

UFS 13/14 at INTECOL

UFS 13/14 at INTECOL

Things started a few days before conference with access to the useful online app which allowed remote viewing of the whole conference programme. The UFS met with Fran Sconce on Sunday afternoon and made our way to Docklands and the ExCel, a venue so large that it has 2 DLR stations. For us the afternoon was taken up with pre-registration workshops run by Karen Devine and the ever helpful Tom Ezzard  and his colleagues from the International Network of Next Generation Ecologists (INNGE). Meanwhile others attended parallel sessions on forest ecology and eco trips in and around London. This was all followed by a mixer which gave an opportunity to meet up with old colleagues or to be introduced to new people.

I don’t intend to talk about the specifics of the science here, there was too much for one thing and I need time to digest it all, so perhaps I will talk about some of that in forthcoming posts. So how did I find the conference? Firstly it was bigger than I could ever have imagined, I mean really big! It wasn’t the first scientific conference that I had attended but it was the first with multiple parallel sessions and it was difficult to decide where to go next at times. Some of the talks left me reeling and wondering if other delegates were similarly lost, I am a junior ecologist and some of the topics were very narrow and completely new to me. Having said that it was really friendly and people were easy to talk to.

I liked the way that the days were structured with two plenaries interspersed with symposia, workshops and poster sessions. Having the plenary up first gave an extra incentive to arrive punctually and usually got the mind working with something insightful or thought provoking. I thought the choice of plenary speakers was interesting especially on the final day with Martin Nowak presenting some, perhaps controversial, thoughts from his 2010 paper “The Evolution of Eusociality” in the morning and Tim Clutton Brock coming at the same topics from a different angle in the afternoon, this was an invigorating way to end the week and I remember thinking at the time that it was a shame that a number of delegates had obviously left early and so missed it.  Besides the plenary speakers I saw some truly inspiring speakers amongst whom Corey Bradshaw  and Barbara J Anderson  stood out as excellent communicators. However my top marks for presentation must go to Alexandra Sutton who, when beset with technical gremlins, presented her PHD research from memory with no AV support at all! There really was a lesson for early career scientists about the importance of honing presentation skills and this was driven home when Joel Cohen  spoke so engagingly  for 45 minutes about Taylor’s law. With this in mind I have booked a place on the mastering ecology symposium where I hope to get practice presenting my own research.

A further highlight was the way that twitter was used at the conference (#INT13) with plenary questions taken on the hashtag and many people (myself included) live tweeting from the parallel sessions. One downside here though was the lack of available charging points for hand held devices in the symposium rooms. Kathryn Luckett (@DExtER_Exp) used twitter to great effect to highlight the disparity between the numbers of male and female speakers at the conference , this was particularly noticeable during the panel debate where all 4 speakers were senior male scientists (Granted that one female was invited but dropped out through illness). Live tweeting turned out to be a real challenge; firstly a junior scientist needs to pluck up the courage to put their interpretation of the talk out there, then you need to get around the fact that you always thought it was rude to be using a mobile device while somebody was talking to you and finally you need to be able to do 3 things at once (listen, interpret and communicate). However once I got the hang of it I did find that tweeting helped me to engage more with the science and I was genuinely excited to see some of my tweets re tweeted!

I found the week to be thought provoking and inspiring in equal measure and the social events each evening were often second to none, particularly the final bash to celebrate 100 years of the BES on which the committee deserve hearty congratulations .  On a personal note I was also pleased to see Libby John, who has made a real difference at Lincoln University and who encouraged me to join the BES, receive an award for her service as erstwhile chair of the education committee.

I owe the BES a genuine debt of gratitude for a very memorable week, THANK YOU!

Next year’s meeting is in Lille, hope to see you there!

It is probably worth repeating here that the BES offers a years free membership if you join as a student.

From LSD through job hunting to hungry bears

I recently read a fascinating account by Mike Jay in Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v497/n7450/full/497435a.html which celebrated the legacy of Albert Hoffmann who discovered LSD some 75 years ago. Jay describes how Hoffmann was searching for a cardiovascular stimulant and thought that LSD might do the trick. However the drug originally appeared to show little promise and so was shelved until Hoffmann recreated it on an apparent whim. Working with LSD Hoffmann noticed a feeling of dizziness and mild psychoactive effects and so decided to take what he thought would be an imperceptible 250 micrograms of the drug, before cycling home, to see if it was causing these symptoms. Jay goes on to talk about a wildly hallucinatory bike ride of a lifetime, complete with a “kaleidoscope of fantastic images”, the rest as they say, is history. Imagine writing the funding application in today’s climate! But I suppose a few free samples might help.

I’ve been thinking about open access recently with organisations like the BES (@BritishEcolSoc) making their journals open access after 12 months and I got to thinking how expensive it would be to  access  journals without institutional privileges. This led me to enquire whether the university ( http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/home/) might provide better facilities for alumni wishing to use electronic resources for research. It seems that the university is willing but at this moment in time the cost is prohibitive, personally I remain convinced that this is a facility that institutions should be offering to enable their alumni to remain current.

Laura Drake emails to say that The Mammal Society is holding its second student conference at Stoke on July 15, unfortunately I have a prior engagement but some tickets are still available here http://www.mammal.org.uk/student_conference.

For those who are graduating from university good luck with the job search and here is a list of UK wide vacancies in the environmental sector. http://www.environmentjob.co.uk/jobs

Finally  to  an article on declining elk numbers in Yellowstone by Middleton and coleagues : http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1762/20130870. It seems that introduced lake trout have caused a decline in native trout, the introduced species spawns on lake bottoms out of the reach of hungry grizzlys. This may have caused a cascade of effects leading to increased grizzly predation on elk calves. Just when everyone thought that the re introduced wolves were responsible for declining elk numbers.

Managing woodland and other ramblings

A woodland ride

(Avon wildlife trust http://www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk (c) Mike Martin)

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I’ve read a fair bit lately on the pro’s and con’s of woodland management, particularly in respect of the relative value of coppicing. You can read a bit about coppicing here http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/practical-guides/coppicing-an-introduction/ . In my view the jury is firmly out on the value of coppicing as a straightforward conservation tool but it does most certainly promote interest and get people talking, it also allows for the production of sustainable wood products and fuel, see here: http://www.wealdenheartwood.co.uk/woodland-blog/ but a glance at the ride in this wood in Avon shows that a mixed community effect can be achieved without destruction. I think that there should be a place for all management techniques (including doing nothing) and hopefully this will give the required mix of woodland habitats.

Recent times have seen me trying to get into using R for stats and modelling and last week I attended the Sheffield R users group http://www.meetup.com/SheffieldR-Sheffield-R-Users-Group/?scroll=true organised by Simon Cross where I saw some super 3d visualisations and heat maps in a talk by Jonathon Minton available here http://www.meetup.com/SheffieldR-Sheffield-R-Users-Group/pages/SheffieldR_meeting_-_29th_May_2013, any one who is any doubt about the power of R as a visual tool should check this out. I can also recommend this text which introduces R by Mark Gardener http://www.pelagicpublishing.com/statistics-for-ecologists-using-r-and-excel-data-collection-exploration-analysis-and-presentation.html .

I attended the BES symposium on the evolutionary ecology of infectious disease recently and found the speakers to be both interesting and entertaining, well worth the early morning train journey, I was also impressed by the live twitter feed provided by @Bkoskella.

Finally, does everyone know that the Society of Biology has a new home on the web? Their new webpage can be found at https://www.societyofbiology.org/ .