So right now I'm at the Animal Behavior Society conference in Indiana. It's been so amazing. A research conference is essentially like college in that there are a few buildings (5 for ABS) with lectures going on concurrently, each 15-30 minutes long. You hop between lectures, choosing the ones you want, and eventually start seeing a lot of the same faces. Each morning and night are plenary talks, which are the biggest names at the conference (ABS paid them to come, for example, as opposed to us paying to be able to present). Their talks are scheduled so they don't interfere with anything and everyone basically goes to them. The plenaries are surprisingly unbelievably friendly... I talked to Hopi Hoekstra from Harvard who has absolutely fascinating research about the genetics of burrowing behavior after talk, for example. My question was pretty small and not that interesting but when I got up to her, she was like "Hi! My name is Hopi" and shook my hand, smiling. I was thinking "oh mah gash of course I know who you are." I asked her the question and she was like "great question! That's such an interesting area of research that we've been thinking about and there's some really cool stuff with etc. etc." and I about melted in pleasure, haha. Another plenary was Shelley Adamo, who looks at immunology (immune system and disease research) and I asked her some questions and she was about bouncing around in enthusiasm and passion. One of the plenaries, though, I tried talking to and she kind of ignored me, which was lame. Oh well.
But basically, you've got a collection of like-minded people who are really passionate about what they're studying. They're also emotionally invested into their work, and so when you're talking with them, you can see how much they love what they're doing, and so all these conversations around you are just filled with excitement and passion, and there's this feeling of communal care and happiness. It's such a great feeling.
There were two poster sessions in the midst of the conference. Relatively big results get talks, smaller results get posters. You hang up your ~1m x 0.75m poster on a board and then you stand next to it while people walk around. My result wasn't that exciting but surprisingly I got like 10-11 people who came by and really wanted to hear about it! There were some stickleback researchers who started debating theory as I was standing there, and started including me and I was kind of blown away and felt dumb for being the one presenting and them being my audience when I had minimal idea what they were talking about, hah! But they were really nice about it and taught me a little. The next day was a bit annoying when, after hanging out with everyone and talking and making connections, they all headed out to the bars while I went back to my room (I turn 21 in a few days), but otherwise it was fine.
So... I'm meeting a lot of people and it's so awesome. I was getting dinner in the cafeteria downstairs with a friend when I saw someone who I'd seen around a few times so I invited her to eat with us. Turns out she's a professor at a university in Liverpool! She was very friendly and we talked about her research while we ate. I've been going up to people whose talks were cool and talking with them afterwards, also. I talked to this girl from Cambridge who had a sweet talk about social conflict in corvids (ravens, crows, rooks, jays) and she recommended I contact this one guy at Cambridge who's looking for grad students! I e-mailed him last night and after nervously waiting for an hour checked my e-mail and saw a response! The response was "Mail delivery failure, destination not reached." Ahhhhhhh! haha. So, I searched for a while and found another address and tried that one. Today, I saw I got a response from him and he was really open to the idea and wants me to send him a proposal for a potential PhD project, which he said we can then work on together to make it feasible and work out! Woooow. I'm so excited. Getting into Cambridge would be insanely hard, though, and even if I get in, I can't work in a lab unless I also get outside funding, so I better get on that. But outside of Cambridge, I found a lady doing social work with corvids at University of Washington near Seattle, and she's looking for grad students, so I introduced myself last night and we talked for half an hour. I don't really want to go to UWash so I wasn't really nervous while talking to her, but there came a moment in the conversation when I was like "holy crap, I could be talking to my future advisor right now" and it made me a lot more serious in what I was talking about. Cool stuff! Options are nice.
Anyway, I'm going to grab lunch now. There's some more cool talks coming up and the plenary for tonight actually works with corvids, so I'm going to try to make a good impression when I ask him questions after his talk. I've had trouble sleeping the first few nights because i've been so excited about meeting all these people and being surrounded by such nerdiness, but I'm starting to get really tired... I'm basically on from 8am until midnight every day! The conference ends tomorrow at lunch and I'll be a bit disappointed but relieved it's over (no more chances to make a fool of myself, lol).
IBH students travel the world, publish research papers, and do all sorts of amazing things