The Wonderful World of SICB, Part 3

Parts 1, 2, and 2.5 were focused mostly on preparing for my talk and analyzing all my mistakes. Now it’s time to shift the focus from my chaotic life to the actual conference itself. I’ll go over the organization of SICB, the social side of the conference, and maybe squeeze in some of my favorite talks from this year.

The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) Meeting, happens every year, generally at the beginning of January, and has about 3,000 members. I’m not sure how many of those people attend the conference every year, but it’s probably a good sized fraction. It feels like at least 500 people, but I could easily be wrong.

As I said in Part 1, I didn’t really get to enjoy SICB 2016. I  only went for the first two days, really, and all the talks I went to were chosen because they were given by either students in labs I had applied to or by the professors themselves. It was a networking mission.

This year, I didn’t get to enjoy the first two days of SICB, but I enjoyed the last two. I suppose in a way the two conferences have balanced themselves out a bit.

So, how is SICB organized?

sicb(Click the image to access the PDF)

SICB generally lasts for five-ish days. I say five-ish because the first day only has one talk, the plenary talk, at 7.30pm to kick-start the conference. Last year, Terrie Williams from UC Santa Cruz gave the plenary and it was entertaining, hysterical, and educational. This year, Billie Swalla from University of Washington gave it. I was tired from nearly a constant 24 hours of computer chugging at that point, but I honestly found it scatter-brained and not truly interesting, but it did have a few good jokes thrown in. However, I’m not a devo bio person for a reason. Just not my cup of tea, and that’s fine.

Following the plenary is a welcome reception afterwards at 8.30pm. The next four days are generally scheduled as follows:

  • 8am-9.45am: Early Morning Session Talks
  • 10am: Coffee Break
  • 10.15am-12pm: Late Morning Session Talks
  • 12pm-1.30pm: Lunch Break
  • 1.30pm-3.30pm: Afternoon Session Talks
  • 3.30pm-5.30pm: Coffee Break & Poster Session
  • 5.30p-7.30pm: Dinner Break
  • 7.30pm: Evening Lecture

This is just the rough outline. Hidden within this schedule are workshops in the lunch and dinner breaks, symposia (which are all day sessions lasting from 8am to 3.30pm, are centered around a specific topic, and follow the break schedules), divisional meetings, committee meetings, contests and competitions, awards, and social events (yes, there is a conference-wide dance event. No, I did not go.).

Let me define symposia and sessions just a bit more clearly. A symposium is a mini-meeting centered around a specific theme that lasts all day (8-3.30pm). It’ll stay in the same room throughout the entire day. The talks themselves are generally 30 minutes to an hour long. For example, one of the symposia this year had the theme, “Indirect Effects of Global Change: from Physiological and Behavioral Mechanisms to Ecological Consequences” and the talks ranged from the effect of noise pollution on animal communication to altered enzyme behavior in reactions.

There were 11 total symposia this SICB, 3 on Thursday and Sunday, two on Friday and Saturday. There were 146 sessions: 36, 32, 40, and 35 on TFSS, respectively. From what I understand, in order to talk in a symposium, you can put your name in the hat, but ultimately you have to be invited by the coordinator. The sessions are designed entirely around talk submissions. No one is turned away. If you submit to give a talk, you will give a talk, they just have to find a place for you. Because of this, some topics might be more popular than others.

Enter a caption

Look at the picture to the right. You’ll notice that roughly half of the talks are not followed by a roman numeral. This means there were just enough talks that one session could cover the topic. Others are followed by I (meaning they are the first of at least two sessions), II, or III (I have yet to see a IIII). They don’t necessarily have to be on the same day, either. Flight I was held on Friday, while Flight II and III are Saturday.

Some talks are called Comp to S#. These are complementary sessions to one of the symposia. If you submitted a talk for a symposium but were not selected to give a talk, you give it in one of the complementary sessions. Jeeze, I mean, look at 101. Comp to S4 III. Along with the full-day symposium, there were three additional sessions talking about the evolutionary impacts of seasons. Popular topic, at least this year anyway.

The talks in the sessions are 15 minutes long, generally organized at 12-13 minute talks with time for questions. When you submit to give a talk, you are asked to input 3 keywords, two of which are from a predetermined list, and you can optionally use your own keyword as the third. I’m pretty you’re sorted into an appropriate session by the keywords. If enough people submit a unique keyword that is not on the list, a new session is made and the keyword is added to the predetermined list for next year. At least, that is how I’ve been told it works from some older members, but it makes sense from an organizational standpoint.

The block schedule for my session, Biorobotics, so you can see roughly how these things are organized in the complete schedule.

I am absolutely clueless as to how the poster sessions are organized, I didn’t pay that much attention to them this year, honestly. However, within each session, the first hour is devoted to the Even # posters presenting while the odd # presenters can wander around, and then in the second hour it flip flops. I mean, ideally that’s how that worked, but walking around I noticed that nearly everybody was at their poster for the first hour, and then during the second hour, as the crowds started to disperse, the poster presenters would start stepping away and wandering then.

Another important organizational bit has to do with divisions. Within SICB itself, members categorize themselves into one or more divisions as follows:

  • DAB: Division of Animal Behavior
  • DCB: D.o. Comparative Biomechanics
  • DCE: D.o. Comparative Endocrinology
  • DCPB: D.o. Comparative Physiology & Biochemistry
  • DEBD: D.o. Evolutionary Developmental Biology
  • DEDE: D.o. Ecoimmunnology & Disease Ecology
  • DEE: D.o. Ecology & Evolution
  • DIZ: D.o. Invertebrate Zoology
  • DNB: D.o. Neurobiology, Neuroethology, & Sensory Biology
  • DPCB: D.o. Phylogenetics & Comparative Biology
  • DVM: D.o. Vertebrate Morphology

You can see from the titles that a lot of different fields are represented at SICB. Each division has a Chair, Secretary, Program Officer, and Student/Post-doc Rep. At each SICB, the divisions meet individually and vote on next year’s officers, who are then in charge of organizing symposia and session line ups, the division’s social events, and other things. According to the SICB site, DCB (my division) has three awards.

  1. The Carl Gans Award, which is given in two contexts: 1) 1) for an outstanding young investigator in the field of biomechanics, or (2) for a significant contribution to the literature (book, research paper, or other) on biomechanics by a member of SICB at any career stage.
  2. The Steven Vogel Award for the Best Student Poster in Biomechanics, pretty self explanatory.
  3. And lastly, the Mimi A.R. Koehl and Stephen A. Wainwright Award for the Best Student Talk in Biomechanics.

SICB is definitely geared towards students.

Each registered attendee is given a name tag at sign-in that looks roughly like this.

I found an example badge on Google Images and modified it to have my current information. I left my badge at school in my ever-growing name tag collection. Yes, I do collect them. I promised a professor in undergrad that I would have a collection as big as his one day. I like to keep my promises.

You can see name, university, city, and affiliated divisions on each person’s badge. I’m lame and only belong to one at the moment. However, I expect that as I do projects with live fish, I’ll probably expand to DVM as well.

I don’t know too much about how workshops and evening lectures are chosen, but they seem to be really cool. I wish I could have gone to a few, but here’s a block schedule for TFSS. I really wanted to go to the Journal of Experimental Zoology Workshop and the Video Data Management Workshop (1.5Tb of video data after like a week of experiments, could have been useful). Alas, I didn’t. The JEZ workshop was when I was having a mental breakdown before my talk and the one of Sunday was during a lunch with friends.


The top row are the workshops scheduled for the conference and the bottom row are all the social events. I went to the DVM/DCB Social and the last social.

Let me just say, the DVM/DCB Social was a blast. It was held on the third floor of Maison on Frenchman Street, and my friend Brett from UofC was the DJ. I ended up dancing nearly the entire evening, but the best part was when the professors danced as well. There was a moment when the UofC crew was dominating the dancing stage. Professors I had interviewed with were literally shaking their butts in my face. It was epic. People I had been intimidated by were dancing with absolutely no rhythm whatsoever (not that I’m a good dancer by any means, but they were the white people that white people make fun of, you know?) and it was very hysterical. I stopped myself from recording any of it because I felt that was crossing the line from hysterical to mean, but that night will be burned into my memory for a very long time.

The last social event was just a SICB-wide pow-wow. We flash our badges at the door and we get a 1-free-drink voucher, and that drink can be anything from water and juice to beer and wine. Free food is also available. Cheese and fruit platters, crackers galore, standard stuff. It’s the place to say good-bye to people, do some last minute networking, and blush crazily as you recognize people you danced semi-embarrassingly/stupidly with at the party without even knowing their names. (I then was brave enough to actually go up to them during this social and say officially meet them. It was funny.)

Outside of scheduled events, everyone is exploring the city, going to museums, eating their fill of cajun food and beignets, and of course hitting up Bourbon Street. We went on Friday, and it was 6pm, cold, windy, and rainy. Not the ideal time, but I enjoyed being able to just walk on the street and not have to avoid vomit or people. The music was also great, since most clubs had at least one window open.

New Orleans was a really great city for SICB. Portland was horrible by comparison. No good eats near the conference center, nothing to really do in the city, and the conference center itself was spread out over a few sections, making it a bit harder to navigate.

Next year it is in San Francisco, which is going to be epic. I haven’t been to SanFran since I was 11, so I’m looking forward to going and enjoying the adult-side of the city.



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