If I’m really developing something brand new through my PhD and defining some aspect of bear biology and management the world has never seen, then I should probably get it out there so it can influence decision making and public opinion. There are lots of different ways PhD Candidates and other researchers share their work with the world, and this past week I’ve been working on it in a few different ways.
Next week, I’m going to a big biology conference in Montana, which will be attended by over 1,000 North American biologists. The North American Congress for Conservation Biology is “a forum for presenting and discussing new research and developments in conservation science and practice for addressing today’s conservation challenges”. This will be my first conference presenting the preliminary results of my PhD research. These conferences are where biologists go to geek out. It’s all science all the time. We attend presentations and have deep, philosophical discussions about statistics and methodologies, we listen to each other thoughtfully and a little critically. We network and see what potential there is to work together in creative ways to address massive ecological challenges. It’s not all work… biologists know how to cut loose a little too… but what happens at a conference stays at a conference, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
This conference is a big one for North America and some of my science-heroes are going to be there delivering presentations. That is just awesome! This opportunity to see and listen to some of the people whose papers I’ve been reading for years but never met is pretty cool. I can ask them questions and learn and learn and learn. The crazy thing though, is that they can ask me questions too. And that’s more than a little intimidating.
The Poster Session
There are several different kinds of presentations you can do at a sciencey conference like this one. Because I’m pretty new into my PhD and only have preliminary results, I’ve been invited to present a poster. This poster is an attempt to sum up my research so far on one piece of paper and make it look pretty. Poster sessions are kind of like a scientists cocktail party. There are usually snacks and maybe some wine. All the posters are put up on throughout the room and people mingle around and look at them. My job will be to stand with my poster and talk to people about my work.
The funny thing about making a science poster is that it still has to look good. Scientists aren’t always good designers… we’ve all sat through a University lecture with a prof who uses 12pt font to fill up a power point slide… Basically though, if your poster isn’t pretty, people aren’t going to read it and they won’t stop and talk to you either. I actually like this part of designing a poster because it’s not often I get to be visually creative in this way. I can make a poster look pretty, but that’s not really enough. At the end of the day, I’m still presenting this poster to a bunch of scientists, most of whom are WAY smarter than me.
While the design of the poster makes people stop and want to read more, it’s the content of the poster that will make them want to talk to you and learn more about your research. This is where poster design is hard. There should be a few graphs and pictures that visually represent your research. There shouldn’t be too much text, but enough that people can see what you’re doing and what you’ve found so far. The poster should leave people wanting just a little bit more so they talk to you or email you later. A poster is basically a pretty teaser of your work.
To be honest, I’m more of a presentation kind of girl. I can put a powerpoint together in under 2 hours. I can stand up in front of a room and talk about my work without too much effort. But this poster took me days to complete. I’m finally at a stage where I think it’s good and it’s going to the printer’s today. It’s exciting but I’m still nervous about the conference… to be expected. NACCB poster_2014_FINAL (this is a link to the poster I’ll be presenting).
The funny thing about getting ready for this conference is that I haven’t been talking to scientists about my work very much at all. I’ve been talking to a lot of volunteers and the public and that’s just a different kind of presenting. At times like this, I remember how all of my communication and media seminars have talked about knowing your audience. Yesterday, I was interviewed on CBC Radio’s the Home Stretch about all the bear activity in the Bow Valley and my bear encounter from a few weeks back.
Have a listen to me on the radio here: http://www.cbc.ca/homestretch/episode/2014/07/07/bears-in-the-bow-corridor/
I like these radio pieces because it’s a great opportunity to talk about our bears to a large audience and get some good messages out there. I was pretty stoked to be on the Home Stretch, which airs during rush hour in Calgary and surrounding communities. The interview wasn’t exactly what I expected though and I was caught a little off guard by one of the questions about trail closures. Still, I think it went well and it was fun.
Through my work with CPAWS, I did a lot of media stuff. Radio, TV, newspapers don’t really intimidate me anymore. I know I can do that and I know I can do it well.
But getting ready for a conference…. Well that’s a different story.
Putting my smart brain back on
For the past few months, I’ve been in the field. It makes my body fitter, but I do feel like my brain gets softer. I haven’t had an academic style conservation about my thesis in months! So this week, I’ve got to put my smart brain back on and get ready to talk about my PhD with other academics. I’ve started by re-reading my confirmation document and the visitor survey chapter I’ve already drafted. I wrote it once, so it’s in there somewhere. Wish me luck!