I went to the Mammal Society spring conference last weekend, a two-day mammal-fest at which I presented some of my work on mapping the distribution of UK mammals. It was my first time at a Mammal Society conference and I really enjoyed it.
I am used to much bigger conferences so with no parallel sessions this one felt more like a symposium. This has both advantages and disadvantages of course. On one hand you get to see all the talks so no worries about missing something interesting and after a while you know people’s first name and they know yours. On the other hand, if you have insufferable people that love asking questions or simply making comments based on their infinite wisdom, then you are stuck with them.
Overall I have to say I was quite impressed by the level of the talks and by the pointed questions asked after each one of them. Although, to be honest, I am inclined to forget not so good talks if they have loads of pictures in them. Obviously a mammal conference is bound to not disappoint in that department. So now I really want to work on hedgehogs and dormice and rabbits…
One thing I noticed about myself is how far I have come in several key skills. First in terms of giving a talk; I think I have always been able to control my nerves to an extent by practicing my talk over and over, but I can distinctly remember feeling much more nervous that what I felt this weekend. While it could be a fluke, I’d like to think that it demonstrates that I have levelled up in this skill. I don’t think I will ever stop being a bit nervous but it’s nice to see that with a bit more experience comes more control.
Moreover the thing that used to terrify me even more than giving a talk was answering questions about it. Last weekend, even though my presentation contained some controversial elements, my feeling was ‘bring it on’, kind of like playing a game of ‘how nasty can questions be’ (actually they weren’t).
Then I have progressed in terms of asking questions to other speakers. I know some people, even junior people, are very comfortable with raising their hand after a talk. It’s always been another excuse to be nervous for me, and I usually avoid it even if I have a good question in mind. Not this weekend though! I asked several questions without trembling too much…
Finally I am getting better at networking or at least engaging people I don’t know in conversation and forcing myself out of my shell. Not only did I talk to people at lunch and tea breaks but I marched myself down to the dinner and sat at a random table when my first instinct was to not go at all. Being in a room full of people I don’t know in a social setting is usually the definition of a nightmare but this weekend I did it and chatted away with some very interesting people.
So overall, this experience was a win on a professional and personal level. My talk was successful and I met interesting people, and I pushed the boundaries of what I usually can tolerate.