When conferences go right  


Last week I presented at the annual conference of Australian climate scientists. It’s my absolute favourite conference, and every year, it goes right.

For a start, my professional society is “progressive”, meaning that it knows it serves a community in 2016 and not 1950. Childcare is provided, with children welcome at the conference dinner and at the tea breaks and a popular topic of conversation.

We have a strong focus on gender equity and diversity, with a sub-committee that runs a popular lunchtime session on the first day of the conference discussing such issues. We also have a high proportion of student and early career members, and a focus on professional development and skill development.

It’s a fun and supportive place to be. This year, we had a lunchtime session talking about art and science, with an opera signer and an artist presenting about their interest in climate change. We also have a communication and outreach session, with free registration for schoolteachers, and participation from representatives from both government and not for profits.

The quality of science is excellent and surprising for such a small conference (~400 people). It’s large enough to have several parallel sessions, but small enough that you can duck in and out, and later talk to the speakers you want to follow up with.

Due to a series of health issues and existential crises, it feels like a long time since I’ve conferenced. Last week’s meeting was a welcome re-entry into the academic’s incessant need to conference. I caught up with old friends, my scattered past and present students and my valued mentors. I also had the chance to present some slightly “out there” work and get feedback.

I heard some great talks where I thought, “I’m glad someone’s doing this research” and I heard some talks that I completely disagreed with. It was the right balance – enough new material to see where people are striking out towards and enough contentious material to make me think about why I think what I think.

It was also a valuable opportunity for our community to come together at a time where Australian climate scientists are under increasing social and political pressures. In the social breaks, we could discuss current events, talk about ways forward and generally re-assure each other.

By the end of the conference, I felt energised. I felt that I’d made new connections and renewed old professional relationships and that I was up to date on the latest research in the community. It was a conference done right – well worth the time away from my laptop and well worth the investment of jet fuel by an ensemble* of climate scientists.

* At the conference we nerdily agreed that this is the collective noun for a group of climate scientists.

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