Plant Biology ’15 wrap up.

This is my final wrap up of #plantbiology15. My previous posts from before and during the conference (pdf) are here, herehere and here. There was a lot to take in. 

The final impression of Plant Biology 2015, now that i’ve had a chance to reflect, is that it was a lot. A lot of things to see, do, and participate in. Sensory overload, even. There were two other plant conferences going on concurrently I didn’t even really get to look into via Twitter (#Botany2015, #napb2015).

Science is as much about the people that do it as the science itself, and in the case of plant science, we intensely study plants and how they work with a translatable goal of serving humanity through plant products.

Science is as much about the people that do it as the science itself, and in the case of plant science, we intensely study plants and how they work with a translatable goal of serving humanity through plant products. Although it’s also true many of us are focused more on how plants work as an end in itself, without translation in mind, and that’s OK. Pursuing curiosity often leads to translation eventually. Or others, like collaborators, for instance, can pick up what we learn and translate it.

I tweeted up a storm and there was a lot that happened all over the conference. I felt energized being there. Which is not always the case in overstimulating social environments.

Twitter gives you a sixth sense in a way, letting you see through walls into other sessions and workshops going on while you’re physically somewhere else.

Twitter gives you a sixth sense in a way, letting you see through walls into other sessions and workshops going on while you’re physically somewhere else.

Of course, this risks dividing attention, but I think I retweeted more than I tweeted; trying to give a sense of the broad conference as well as my own individual experience through my own tweets. My thumbs were sore by the final day of the conference. Akin to “gaming hand”, I had “Re-tweet thumb”. I’m grateful we had a lot of twitterers at the conference because it adds depth and reinforces content when several people tweet the same session.

It’s been good to see the growth of broadcasting the conference.

The conference beyond the conference is just as important now, if not more so, than the conference itself

The conference beyond the conference is just as important now, if not more so, than the conference itself, it seems to me.

Mary Williams put together a thorough and fantastic two-part guide on Twitter (similar rules apply for other social networks). I have nothing to add, except here’s one collection of tweets via storify form the conference. If you search the #plantbiology15 hashtag in twitter, they show up as well. Mary lists several plant science related accounts in her post. I had a list of some too in a post from last year. I think I tagged most of the tweeters I was aware of at the conference in a series of tweets last Friday. It’s possible to combine the hashtag search as well as an individual.

#plantbiology15 tweeters:

Participating in Social media is one way of presenting the conference beyond the conference. Another is making your talk or poster friendly for the internet (it’s always OK to opt out too). Put your twitter handle as well as your email address on your poster, put the logo of the twitter bird in panels that are OK to broadcast (or like at #napb2015, perhaps ASPB will have Twitter bird stickers to stick to your poster in the future). Someone might see your science tweeted and a new connection might be made. Twitter has a way of making serendipitous connections happen. There are also services like Slideshare, figshare, and the forthcoming Plantae (Plantae.org launches this fall!) that will enable scientists to share their work (more and more are aware of these services).

Similarly, with talks, here’s a template for a title slide to make it friendly for tweeting if you want to be friendly to those live tweeters in the audience:

How to make a Twitter friendly title slide. Obviously, this is a bare bones example.
How to make a Twitter friendly title slide. Obviously, this is a bare bones example.

We attend conferences to meet in person with colleagues, old and new. And I think a lot of us hope to be surprised. As small as the plant biology community is, it is also big. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is something that all of us doing knowledge work face every day. We can’t possibly get to it all. Nor can we work on everything either. And so conferences and social networks are valuable because they may shift our narrow focus into something broader, perhaps spark a new thought, a new idea.  A problem someone else has solved in another system can be brought to bear on your work.

Even just explaining your poster to someone who’s dropped by can help solidify your own thinking. A mentor of mine said he basically wrote his specific aims for future grants based on ideas that he heard from people he spoke with at conferences (presumably they get refined and honed after the initial notes).

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is something that all of us doing knowledge work face every day. We can’t possibly get to it all. Nor can we work on everything either. And so conferences and social networks are valuable because they may shift our narrow focus into something broader, perhaps spark a new thought, a new idea.

In terms of science, I came away with a few new ideas for my work on plant hormones, transcriptional networks, and just how refined plants are in their hormone responses. And I left with a lot of things to learn better or look into more.

Conferences do is inspire us to do better, to enact better practices in our science, classes, and adopt new ways of doing things.

Conferences do is inspire us to do better, to enact better practices in our science, classes, and adopt new ways of doing things. For years, attending conferences triggered my impostor syndrome. Realizing that FOMO is real and that it’s not possible to do everything, let alone everything well, having a defined niche (I love being a prominent social media sharer at the conference), and learning that I can learn, that I’m there to learn– the growth mindset– all help me feel excited by all the great science, workshops etc. at Plant Biology. I got a lot from smaller minisymposia and posters too,  not just the major symposia– though I found most of those interesting too.

With the breadth of plant biology in the world, there’s likely someone that knows something about a question you are asking about how plants work.

There was little mention of CRISPR (current technology-du-jour in life science it seems) at Plant Biology, but a lot of next-gen sequencing (or is it now “current-gen” sequencing?). On the whole, I thought the major symposia speakers did a good job of translating their large data sets into specific stories and results, though after initial discovery of a pathway/gene of interest, the bigger dataset seems to fall away and no longer matter. I like the idea of getting a global look at what’s going on in plants, though we can only consider a few things at one time in an experiment and we are resource limited (though there are some substantial resources in some labs/universities/institutes). It’s good that there’s a place for both the large and the focused still in plant biology; and increasingly, it seems synthesizing the complex stimuli plants receive is more and more important (simulating the environment as best we can). One thing Plant Biology underscores is just how sophisticated plants are and just how clever plant scientists need to be to get at what is going on in time, space, cell-type, and environment. Jose Dinneny talked about the Zen of Plant Physiology and had this excellent slide:

Zen of Plant Physiology from Jose Dinenny. Source: F1000 http://f1000research.com/articles/4-264/v1#f1
Zen of Plant Physiology from Jose Dinneny. Source: F1000

With the breadth of plant biology in the world, there’s likely someone that knows something about a question you are asking about how plants work. Or in informing translation of basic plant science into products (GM or not). With the internet and social media, it’s possible to ask experts more than ever before. So ask. Even if it seems stupid; I have my vast blind spots, I know, and so how to fill those in (focus on weaknesses as Sarah Blackford’s Careers workshop noted). It may not always garner a response, but it’s a start, and may spur you on to finding the answer yourself, whether the person you ask gives you guidance or not. Take it from a relatively shy and quite introverted person: networks are important, and it is about genuinely connecting with others. Remember, that you’re not ever owed a response, but it’s always nice when you get one.

Denouement 

As I’ve written many times here, plants underwrite civilization. Without them, without growing enough food, everything else will fall apart. Along with that are the resources we need to efficiently use to grow plants; water, nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, potassium, phosphate), and the space to grow enough and keep a diverse environment as well. And Plant Biology left me both inspired and with lots to think about as I move forward to keep communicating and doing plant science. My impression of the workshops at Plant Biology is that they were all excellent. Figuring out a career in life and science is not easy, but it is a rich, complex, and there is always something new to learn.

Plant biology (the subject and the confernce) has always mattered. It may matter even more now. And I hope by getting this message out to the world, it will help foster more funding and more research into how plants work and how people can continue to improve them.

Do let me know in comments what your impression of the conference was now that you’ve had some time to reflect on it. What was most interesting to you? What did you take away? What was one new thing you learned?


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