This time last year, I was writing about what a miserable and FUBAR experience my SICB experience was.
Just to recap, SICB is the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology conference that happens every year in early January. It is like Mecca for organismic functional morphology/biomechanics/evo bio people. Attendees belong to at least one of the following divisions:
- (Division of) Animal Behavior
- Comparative Biomechanics
- Comparative Endocrinology
- Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry
- Ecoimmunology and Disease Ecology
- Ecology and Evolution
- Evolutionary Developmental Biology
- Invertebrate Zoology
- Phylogenetic and Comparative Biology
- Vertebrate Morphology
Most of my friends and colleagues belong to Comparative Biomechanics (DCB) and/or Vertebrate Morphology (DVM).
This conference is geared mostly towards undergrads, grad students, and post-docs, with a huge emphasis on student presentations and posters. It’s a very informal, supportive, educational, and fun place to be.
Last year, I made the mistake of trying to present the pneufish stuff–which I had been working on for just a few months– at SICB. Neither the project nor I was at all ready for that, and if you want to read more, I suggest you go read these blogs: The Wonderful World of SICB, Part I, The Wonderful World of SICB, Part 2, The Wonderful World of SICB, Part 2.5, The Wonderful World of SICB, Part 3.
The events of last year actually spurred George to institute a new policy: first year graduate students can do a presentation on old undergrad/masters projects, but not what they’ve been working on since they joined. I’m glad we were all able to learn from my mistakes. Overall, I learned that it’s awesome to be eager and set high bars for myself, but those bars should be realistic.
Anyways, I’m happy to report that this year’s SICB was leaps and bounds better!
My slides were prepped in early December. All of my data was analyzed by this time, too (contrasted to last year, where I was analyzing data at SICB and making graphs up until just before my talk). I was only making a few changes to the graphs’ axes the day before my talk. George also had Dave and I give a few practice run-throughs before we left, too, to make sure we were in a good spot before the holiday.
This year, I had so much less stress and was actually able to enjoy the conference. I presented on the last day of the conference, right after lunch. I was worried that because of the time and day of my session, that most people would have left or simply choose to go nap or something right after lunch. I mean, four straight days of conferencing is exhausting and I wouldn’t have blamed them in the least. However, my session also had a pretty cool title: Bioinspiration: Cats’ Paws and Catapults. (This, of course, was inspired by Steve Vogel’s book, Cat’s Paw and Catapults.) I figured that the timing sucked but the session was cool, so maybe I’d have an ‘okay’ attendance.
It ended up better than I expected: in addition to everyone sitting down, there was also a decent standing audience. Unlike last year, where the extremely large audience really took me by surprise and upped my anxiety to near breaking points, this year I recognized that having a good-sized audience was a good thing. It meant people wanted to see what I was up to. That realization didn’t calm me down at all, but it didn’t make me feel worse, either. I guess that’s a good spot to be in?
Overall, my talk was good. I didn’t have any huge mess-ups, as far as I know. I’m going to talk with George in the next few days. So far, he’s only had positive things to say, but I’ve asked him to find something to criticize. I know there’s something I can improve on.
Hmm, that’s all I really have with regards to my personal talk, for now, anyway.
The rest of the conference was a lot of fun. I spent a good chunk of time with Dave, introducing him to all the people I know. It was his first SICB, and he knew people from his previous labs, but it always helps to know someone who knows other people.
Last year (and this year), Katherine Corn was that person for me. She and I co-interviewed for George’s lab, and she then went to work with Peter Wainwright at UC Davis, focusing on feeding biomechanics, I think. We fast became friends, and she was the catalyst in forming my SICB network. And this year, I was the catalyst for Dave. It felt good to be in a position to pass on the karma.
One of the things I enjoyed most was a workshop on the first day: Storytelling and Science, with Pixar. We went through a bunch of the tools used in Pixar’s movies and worked on how they could translate into science communication. For example:
- “Give them 2+2, but not 4”: Like the beginning of Wall-E, we aren’t told explicitly what happened to Earth. We just see trash everywhere and can kind of put together the backstory from context clues. Sometimes in science, it helps to not just outright say something, but let the audience come to the conclusion on their own. They’ll be more invested in the story then.
- Character arcs: People love watching something transform and grow. Start with project A, but through trial and errors, hardships, successes, it turned into Project B and this cool story.
The highlight of SICB, though, was Frank Fish’s rap. Let’s back up a bit. The last day of the conference is the last day of the conference and a good number of people have already started leaving. To help maintain the audience’s numbers and keep them around until the last session, SICB likes to book a high-profile professor as the last talk of the last session of the last day of the conference. For the last few years, that…uh…honor, as fallen to Frank Fish. He noticed that there might be this “conspiracy”, if you will, because it’s highly, statistically unlikely that out of hundreds of talks, he’s given the last talk several years in a row. He decided to say a few things on the topic.
He wrapped up and talk, and then proceeded to rap:
For the record, Frank and George are besties. I also hoped you noticed the side-ways ball cap Frank put on for the show.
I hope he gets to do his plenary. It won’t be next year, though. Plenarys, or the opening talk of the conference, alternate between guest speaker and past SICB president. This year we had Carl Zimmer talk about what it’s like to do and communicate science in an increasingly not-science-friendly country. Last year, it was Billie Swalla, another past president. Next year, it will be Peter Wainwright (Corn’s advisor and George’s first graduate student). Maybe the year after, Frank Fish will have the pleasure. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.