I confess this is my first American Society of Cell Biology meeting, and very probably the last also. It was not my kind of meeting even when I was involved with Cell Biology research: it was just too broad, too “basic;” and more specialized meetings were preferred- cancer, immunology, etc.
My plan this year was to aim at an education conference or a science conference with a strong educational angle (ASM CUE comes to my mind)- am still hoping for it! But it just happened that one of my collaborators at Carnegie-Mellon University’s OLI project, Anya Goodman, was presenting there, and she proposed a poster about our preliminary data. Thanks to her diligence the abstract was submitted in time, and got accepted. The meeting being in San Francisco, I was able (and happy) to attend.
As anybody attending a research conference knows, a lot of prep work and planning helps getting things done. My goals were to learn about any major cell biology paradigm changes but mainly to connect with other educators involved in science and particularly biology education. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see a whole education string.
Another aspect that surprised me was the openness to non-scientists. The keynote address was open to the general public (upon registration), and the speakers: Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Apple and Genentech chairman Arthur Levinson tailored their talks to appeal to both scientists and non-scientists, a difficult feat in which the former was more successful. Chu combined overarching visions with witty humor, explanations of scientific findings with inspirational advice, and achieved a general feeling of elation of having somebody so accomplished and smart in our Administration. I just discovered his talk has been uploaded to youtube.
On the other hand, Levinson’s talk went deeper and was more technical; and while his presentation was exciting to those in the cancer field, it sounded a bit too promotional of their new product. Which is understandable. But maybe not the most appropriate for a keynote speech.
There was a whole corner dedicated to educational resources, of which I snapped up many (and they are still in my to-be-sorted pile), but what was encouraging was the number of books, pamphlets, and talks dedicated to grad students and postdocs who may be considering education as a career path. That this included mainly teaching institutions (even community colleges) is in indication of the reality check of scientific organizations. In fact, I was very pleased to see at any of the education-related events many students, not only professors.
In the next part (parts?) I will address some of the most memorable talks/presentations I attended.