Mr Darcy’s Guide to Conference Etiquette – Part 2

Life in the Lab, Personal Stories, Science LifeOctober 1, 20140

(click to see part 1)

It is indeed most vexing when an uninvited guest appears on one’s doorstep unexpectedly. So why is turning up at a conference without registering considered to be acceptable? When invited to dinner, one is expected to RSVP so that the host knows to expect one, and it is common courtesy to do the same for a conference – by registering early the organizers can plan in advance for catering, for transportation, for room sizes – a whole host of activities where knowing numbers in advance is helpful. If one does not register until the last moment, one cannot complain if rooms for presentations are fully scheduled with no space for additions, or they run out of biscuits at the coffee break. Late registrations are also more expensive, so unless one’s attendance at the meeting was literally a last moment decision, one has just wasted one’s own money purely because one was not organized.

Even worse is the person who “gatecrashes” a conference. Many meetings are organized by professional societies and/ or charities. Yet I have observed with mine own eyes people who exploit the open nature of conferences and attend sessions, parties and other activities without having paid, even to the extent of eating and drinking fare that others have paid for. Such people are the worst of scoundrels and are in effect stealing large amounts of money from said charities. Conferences are expensive to run and someone has to pay for the food that freeloading cad is eating. That is money that could have been spent, for example, on grants for participants who are students or from developing countries, but that now has to be spent paying for the shortfall caused by stowaway delegates.

Similarly, those that have pledged funding for a meeting, and who renege at the last moment are to be scorned. The organizers relied on those funds and will have already spent them. By breaking one’s promise, they will have to make up the (likely substantial) shortfall themselves, as it is too late to unorder goods or change venues. This again is money that could have been spent on charitable purposes, and by reneging on a funding pledge one might as well be stealing large sums of money from the charity itself. Moreover breaking one’s word is highly dishonorable and will give one a bad reputation for untrustworthiness.

If the organizers have gone to the trouble of booking blocks of rooms and securing a special rate at a hotel, please use that hotel if at all possible. The more people who book rooms at the conference hotels, the more free rooms the organizers get, which can be given to plenary speakers, students or developing country participants. This ultimately helps to reduce the registration fee, but it could also help colleagues to attend the meeting. Moreover, if the rooms that the meeting organizers have put aside for delegates are not taken, they will have to pay what is called an “attrition fee” – 80% of the room cost, which means that again the society or charity hosting the meeting has to meet the financial shortfall. For small societies, that cost can be crippling (literally, attrition costs for rooms not filled because delegates booked via Expedia or other online services can total hundreds of thousands of dollars).

When the conference is actually upon one, there are several things that one can do to relieve stress, one one’s self and also the meeting organizers. The most important is the website: read the program and read the emails that the organizers send out. This is how the important information is provided to conference goers. It is a constant source of amazement to me the number of people who arrive in a fluster not knowing where to go, do not know how to register, or who have missed some vital piece of information (for example, whether visas are required) and so may end up at the least being very put out and rankled, and at the worst being unable to attend the meeting at all, because of not reading clearly provided material in advance. I have known delegates who have arrived at airports and who have had to immediately turn around and fly back to their own country at their own expense, because they did not read a “please read this” urgent message about the need for visas. Ninety percent of questions asked in high dudgeon at registration have answers on the front page of the meeting website. By reading program materials in advance, one protects oneself from an apoplexy and it will keep one from looking a disorganized buffoon in front of one’s peers.

The importance of reading through instructions and advanced preparation is especially important for presenters, We have all seen the presenter whose talk is far too long for the presentation time allotted, who has a presentation in the wrong format or who did not upload their presentation in advance, or who did not check to see whether the conference computer system could handle the enormous video files or online materials that are an integral part of their presentation. This both makes one look unprofessional and leads to delays in the program, and can be very rude to the following presenter, as one’s disorganization means that they have less time to present. The importance of reading presentation instructions is also relevant to poster presentations. Many is the poster that is the wrong size or orientation, so that it covers up a neighbor’s work. Because presenters often, wrongly, view posters as second class presentations or “runner up prizes” for not getting an oral presentation slot, they often don’t even bother to make or bring a poster. This leads to a gap in the program, which frustrates people. It also is a presentation slot lost, which could have gone to a colleague, and one’s pique has effectively denied them the opportunity to go to the meeting and present their work.

There are many who complain as to how one can attend a conference if one has an income of but 10 thousand pounds a year (or less). There are fewer and fewer grants available for travel to meetings, and fewer grants for meetings to subsidize travel for delegates. If one is unemployed, works for a poor NGO, is retired or otherwise financially challenged, do ask the organizers if one might be given the student registration rate – if one asks politely they are often obliging. The latter in fact goes for all communications with the meeting organizers! If one is testy, snarky or demanding they are less likely to be accommodating than if one is gracious and polite, and these people often have great leeway with registration fees or with presentations.

Being a meeting volunteer is a good way to get a discount for meeting attendance. If one does volunteer, be sure to turn up when requested and be conscientious. If one fails to turn up, this can leave the meeting organizers in a bind, with less help for registration or other activities. Failure to turn up also means that the organizers will have a poor opinion of one (and I assure you they have long memories) and bear in mind that these people are often leaders in the field and may be sitting on admission, job or grant panels and a poor attitude as a volunteer, or failure to turn up for volunteering entirely, can make a difference between getting that funding one urgently needs or not. Conversely being a good volunteer will secure one a good reputation, not only with meeting organizers, but delegates one assists – remember conference volunteers can get substantial one-on-one time with influential delegates. Going above and beyond the call of duty and being friendly and efficient as a volunteer has led to people getting PhD positions, invited onto projects, free meeting registrations and travel grants, scholarships/fellowships and excellent job references.

As a conference delegate, do remember that the majority of volunteers are students or researchers from developing countries, or both. English might not be their first language and they might not easily understand questions at registration. They are also just volunteering, they are not meeting organizers, so do not blame them for problems in meeting logistics or the program, and certainly do not blame them for issues that are basically one’s own problem – such as forgetting to pay for extra materials, or to register online in advance, or to read the meeting instructions. The worst I have personally experienced was a delegate yelling at a confused volunteer, which escalated to the extent that the delegate threw a metal mug at the volunteer’s head. That delegate was reported to their employer by the meeting organizers, embarrassed the NGO they worked for, damaging its reputation, and was “blacklisted” and has not been accepted for any presentation at meetings of that particular society again. This delegate also has lost out on job opportunities – volunteers and meeting organizers talk and one will gain a reputation that may severely impair one’s career. Volunteers at conferences are often upcoming young scientists who will be the future of one’s field – set them a good example.

Also, while discussing registration, be aware what those stationed at the meeting desk can help with and what is beyond their control. They can usually help with issues that arise with the conference center, the program or suggest advice about the local area. They have no power to, for example (and these are real examples), do anything about the food selection in local shops or restaurants, or even in concessions in the conference center, or about the locations or variety in local coffee shops. They cannot do anything about the laundry, linens, wifi, or cleaning in the hotels. They cannot do anything about the amount of traffic in the host city, or the frequency, timeliness or the number of buses/trains in said city. They certainly cannot do anything about the strong accents of the locals (yes, I heard someone complain to meeting organizers about the strong accents of Scottish people, how they made it hard for Americans to understand them, as if this was something the meeting organizers could fix) or their English language proficiency.

When in conference sessions, good manners also are appreciated. Do not talk during presentations, and certainly do not take a telephone call – please leave the room before doing so. Be aware that talking in hallways can often be heard in meeting rooms and one’s hallway conversation may not only be making it difficult for a presenter to be heard, but also one may be announcing one’s personal business to conference goers. When seeking seats in a session, unless one must leave quickly to catch the next session, please move into seating rows and not sit at the ends. Delegates will have to clamber over you to get a seat, and/or delegates coming in from other sessions may have to stand or sit on the floor, which can be a fire hazard as well as being uncomfortable. Consider conference seating like one would on a carriage – if one is fit and seats are limited, offer one’s seat to the infirm, pregnant or elderly. When it comes to the question session after presentations, do ask a bona fide question, and do not:

  • give a monologue that is not actually a question – for example, do not describe one’s own work or make a political statement; this is very boorish;
  • ask a question that is not relevant to the presentation just given;
  • ask a question that is not of interest to the whole audience – matters that could be discussed one-on-one with the presenter should be asked one-one-one during the coffee or lunch break;
  • ask a question that was clearly explained in the presentation (but one wasn’t paying attention); or
  • monopolize the presenter. Ask just one question, and then allow others their turn.

Many conference attendees are conservation or environmental practitioners, so try to reduce one’s environmental footprint at a meeting. If there is a carbon charge, make sure to pay it. If a mug or bottle is supplied as part of the conference souvenirs, use them. If such items are not being supplied, bring a travel mug or water bottle. Try not to order hard copies of the program or print out abstract books, but rather use .pdfs on a phone or tablet. Recycle papers and other materials. Use public transport wherever possible. Walk the environmental walk, do not simply talk the talk. A marvelous presentation on conservation and environmental responsibility will be totally undermined when one drops a plastic bottle on the floor in front of one’s peers. Always set an example and try to be an environmental role model.

Finally, there’s a line between being a charming tippler and a loathsome drunkard. Be mindful about maintaining an honorable reputation even when in one’s cups. If one wishes to be a professional in any field, then act professionally at a conference and it will assure one’s reputation. I have said before, and I will say again, “my good opinion once lost is lost forever” and this is certainly the case for conference delegates who are rude, uncharitable or disagreeable. Whereas conference delegate who are well-mannered, charming and friendly, even in trying circumstances, I shall view as good colleagues, collaborators and friends.



FLEXIBLE MORALITY A PLUS: Adjunct. a story in three parts (and an assessment of that new social network).

BloggingSeptember 28, 20140


There’s a new social network, called Ello. Since Amy and I (and sometimes David) teach a social media for environmental professionals course each spring, we’re pretty much committed to giving every nascent social network a fair trial, which means that I’m on Ello, sussing out the strengths and weaknesses of the platform. Just to keep things interesting, this time, instead of recreating the ocean outreach titan of Southern Fried Science, I’m taking my Ello network in a new direction. Instead of the standard marine science and conservation content, you can head over to Ello and read some of my short, often academic of environmentally themed, stories.

Feel free to use this comment thread to discuss this new social network or promote your own Ello profile.

Forest Service Wants Commercial Photography Out of its Wilderness

Conservation, Environmentalism, policySeptember 26, 20140

Ansel Adams helped create what we now call American wilderness through his skillful photography – both his photographs and the places he used them to protect are national treasures. Recently, many of us were reminded of our country’s wilderness legacy through celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. For a quick reminder, the Act designated some of our federally-held lands as wilderness:

For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as “wilderness areas”, and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness.

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River

Yet, along with this celebrated history, these recent discussions have also provoked a number of managers to utilize this strong piece of legislation to their political advantage – and dare I say, without keeping in the spirit of the law. (more…)

No you’re not paranoid – there is a bias against publishing marine conservation papers

Life in the Lab, ScienceSeptember 24, 20144

How many times have you submitted a marine conservation paper to a journal only to have it rejected because it is “too marine”, of “too narrow a focus” or “of limited interest to our readers”?  Despite the oceans making up 71% of Earth’s surface and 99% of the know biosphere, it sometimes seems that there’s a bias against marine articles in some of the leading ecology and conservation journals. Well you’d be right.

Kochin and Levin (2003, 2004) noted that marine conservation got short thrift in conservation journals. For example, on average marine papers comprise less than 11% of leading conservation biology journal papers, whereas 61% were terrestrial (Kochin and Levin, 2004). Marine content ranged from less than 3% in Conservation Ecology to 40% in Aquatic Conservation – even though oceans and sea ice make up 97% of the water on the planet, freshwater ecosystems still dominated the aquatic conservation literature even then.


Watch the Sharks International 2014 Keynote Presentations!

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksSeptember 23, 20142

logoIn June of 2014, almost 400 of the world’s top shark researchers gathered in Durban, South Africa for the 2nd Sharks International conference.  The four keynote presentations have just been put online.

Beyond Jaws: Rediscovering the “lost sharks” of South Africa

Dave Ebert, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory

daveBiography:Dave Ebert earned his Masters Degree at Moss Landing Marine Labs and his Ph.D. at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.  He is currently the Program Director for the Pacific Shark Research Center, a research faculty member at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and an honorary research associate for the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the California Academy of Sciences Department of Ichthyology.  He has been researching chondrichthyans around the world for nearly three decades, focusing his research on the biology, ecology and systematics of this enigmatic fish group.  He has authored 13 books, including a popular field guide to the sharks of the world and most recently he revised the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Catalogue of Sharks of the World.  He has published over 300 scientific papers and book chapters, and contributed approximately 100 IUCN Shark Specialist Group Red List species assessments.  Dave is regional co-Chair of the IUCN Northeast Pacific Regional Shark Specialist Group, Vice Chair for taxonomy, and a member of the American Elasmobranch Society and Oceania Chondrichthyan Society.  He has supervised more than 30 graduate students, and enjoys mentoring and helping develop aspiring marine biologists.



The next era of ocean exploration begins in Papua New Guinea

Blogging, Citizen Science, ecology, marine science, Natural Science, Science, Science Life, Social ScienceSeptember 22, 20140

An OpenROV at Lake Merrit.

An OpenROV at Lake Merritt. Photo by author.

In 1946, Jacques Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan released the Aqualung, forever changing the way humans interact with the oceans. No longer tethered to the surface, entombed in thick, restrictive helmets, we could dive deeper, stay down longer, and explore the dark places snorkelers and free divers feared to fin. The Aqualung opened up the ocean to an entirely new cohort. Ocean exploration, once the domain of well-resourced scientists, career explorers, and the wealthy elite, was now within the reach of the global middle class.

Buoyed by the Aqualung, Marine Science exploded. Marine life could be studied alive and in situ. Behavior could be observed rather than inferred from the stressed and shredded samples of a trawl. The ranks of marine biologists, oceanographers, and explores swelled to numbers that began to gradually approach the relative significance of the ocean to the living world.

We’re just getting started.

Marine science is on the brink of the greatest sea change since JYC and Gagnan introduced the Aqualung to the world.


So what might Scottish independence mean for marine conservation ?

Conservation, EnvironmentalismSeptember 17, 20143

Tina's otter 2

A Scottish otter (which lives in the marine environment)

As the referendum for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom (which besides Scotland current includes Northern Ireland and Wales in addition to England, although you would be forgiven from all the media coverage to think that it only included the former and latter) approaches, I’ve been asked what would independence for Scotland mean for marine conservation? Well in some ways, not a lot. Nature Conservation in Scotland is largely a devolved issue anyway, dealt with by Scottish Natural Heritage, and numerous laws related to the marine environment have been passed by the Scottish parliament over the past decade or so.

Marine issues have had a slightly higher political profile in Scotland compared to south of the border, probably because of the large fishing industry, extensive marine natural resources and a large large marine tourism industry. From public surveys, it appears that the Scottish public actually has a reasonably good knowledge about the marine environment and many species within, and is greatly concerned about its conservation (1). With greater budgetary freedom, it’s possible that a fully independent Scottish government may allocate more financial resources to oceans.


Bigger than just conservation: The WWF Pacific Shark Heritage Program

Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks2

IanIan Campbell has spent his entire career employed across the spectrum of fisheries science and policy, working as a marine surveyor, a fisheries observer and writing fisheries policy for the UK & European governments. He even spent several years as a commercial diver working on oil rigs and for the film industry. Ian is currently leading WWF’s global shark management work. You can follow him on twitter @IanFisheries , and follow the WWF campaign @WWF_sharks.

On September 2, in a back room on the campus of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), on the small island of Samoa, we at the environment conservation non-government organisation, World Wide Fund for Nature WWF quietly launched our Pacific Shark Heritage Programme. This launch was incorporated into the bigger, much flashier United Nations meeting on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke of partnerships, conservation of the oceans’ resources and responsible stewardship. There were meetings of Heads of State & UN officials, the World Bank and Ambassadors, with lots of “high-level statements” and “roadmaps for the future of the oceans” announced at champagne & canapé receptions. Yet, we believe, it was our unheralded meeting in the SPREP’s training centre (tea & coffee were provided), that could have the biggest impact on sharks (and rays, rays need love too) and Pacific Island culture.

There are two major components to WWF’s work in the Pacific. The first is to highlight how intrinsically linked sharks and rays are to the many diverse cultures of the Pacific Island nations. We have documented apocryphal tales, fable and legends that have been passed down from generation to generation over hundreds, if not thousands of years. Tales that have been told in villages and communities ever since people have inhabited these islands. And contained in these stories are some truly remarkable accounts of love, war, marriage advice and even a bit of shark taxonomy. Did you know, for example, that in the Cook Islands, a kindly shark gave Ina, the Fairy Voyager a lift across the ocean to be with her fiancé Tinarau, the God of the Ocean? Ina took with her coconuts to ensure she didn’t die of thirst, but no way of opening them (you always forget something, right?). Ina tried to break the coconut on the shark’s head, which resulted in the hammerhead getting its’ distinctive shape. So there’s a taxonomic question answered. It may be a fable, but it’s still as accurate as some recent Shark Week documentaries. On the beautiful island of Taveuni in Fiji, villagers and school children still speak of Dakuwaqa, the shark god, a ferocious warrior who actually protects the islanders. At the SIDS conference there are carvings and murals of Samoan shark legends everywhere, some selling for up to $40,000 (US). In Pacific Island countries, sharks are everywhere and everyone knows about sharks. At WWF, we know we need to keep this history alive.


Natural history needs more .gifs

Natural Science, ScienceSeptember 15, 20141

There’s something glorious about .gifs, the short video clips that proliferate across the internet. Not quite as demanding of commitment as a full video, slightly more than a still image. These mighty little loops of endless wonder can express joy, surprise, or disdain far better than their static counterpart. They are an artform unique to the web.

Yet, somehow, the humble .gif has never garnered the same level of prestige as a carefully crafted photograph or a lovingly edited documentary. Heck, some science communicators think we should to away with .gifs completely. This is, of course, misguided.


How you can help support Southern Fried Science

BloggingSeptember 10, 20140

Image courtesy of the Love Lab.

Image courtesy of the Love Lab.

Earlier this summer, we switched funding models from an ad hoc Paypal-based donation system to Patreon, a crowdfunding style service for authors, musicians, writers, and, thanks to us, scientists. Thanks to our wonderful Patrons, Southern Fried Science is, for the first time in history, financially sustainable.

We’re still growing. As many of you witnessed during the last Shark Week, our servers are spinning at full capacity and our bandwidth is consistently maxed out. We need to upgrade to a bigger, dedicated server. That costs money.

Southern Fried Science is, and always will be, free and ad free. With the exception of the rare Amazon affiliate links that appears if we mention specific products, we don’t post ads. There are no awkward pitches for weight loss supplements; no pop-ups encouraging enticing you to check your car insurance; no dehumanizing images of Walmart shoppers. Just pure, safe, wholesome marine science and conservation.


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