Conferencing In America

I have not yet written about my time at a scientific conference in America, even though it happened in June last year. I have been so wrapped up in finishing my Master’s that I had completely forgotten to write about the experience (better late than never…) Anyway, I applied for and got accepted to present a poster of my work at the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Proteins which was held at the Holderness School, two hours or so from Boston. For those that don’t know GRCs are held on a wide variety of research interests and they aim to hold smaller gatherings; since they encourage people to present unpublished work, attendees are forbidden from sharing what is presented to a wider audience (so no taking photos, tweeting, or Facebooking any information).

After a long sixteen hour flight from South Africa, I landed in Boston, where all the conferees were picked up by coach to be driven to the middle of nowhere (since there are many GRCs conferences happening in different places at the same time, you have to be sure to get on the right bus). GRCs are quite famous for being hosted at remote places, so that attendees will focus on the meeting rather than jollying around the place. Here was my room for the week:

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The Holderness School is one of those upmarket New Haven education places, hence the dormitory style air of the accommodation. I paid an extra twenty or so dollars to get a room of my own, which is very much worth it. The presentations took place in a lovely air-conditioned building, which you can see here:

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The next day after arrival, all attendees had a group photo, after which the serious business of sciencing commenced. Poster sessions took place in the afternoon, fuelled by bountiful supplies of (free) alcohol. The sessions consisted of awkwardly standing by your poster, waiting for people to come by and ask any questions. Although there is not that much space for free time, I did get a chance to walk in a forest just behind the school with two other conferees; apparently the forest hides black bears and copious quantities of ticks. We did not see any bears although I did find a tick latched onto my trousers when I returned.

The food was pretty good and we even had a chance to sample New England lobster on the final night of dinner; I had not realised what a mission eating this crustacean was, involving an appliance to crack open the impenetrable exterior which no one at the table could figure out until an experienced lobster eater arrived. We even had a disposable lobster bib to go with the endeavour (no photos of that, I’m afraid).

The conference itself was very nice and informative; there was a mixture of experimental and computational content, which was nice to see, although I think it perhaps leaned a little too heavily on the computational side (although that is probably my bias as an experimentalist). The Proteins GRC is known to be quite a broad conference, which is great to go to if you want to know what is happening in a wide range of fields. Unfortunately, this means that many possible attendees go to the more specialist GRCs rather than a generalist one like the Proteins GRC; apparently that year they just made the attendee numbers to prevent the conference from going on probation (GRC conferences are born and die all the time, euphemism aside). The Proteins GRC has been going in its current form since 1961 (at the same venue), so it would be a great shame if it was no longer held.

After the conference, I had quite a few hours before my flight which I used to explore Boston. I managed to visit the Faneuil market and Boston aquarium, both within walking distance of each other. Here’s a photo of some penguins at the aquariam:

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They also have a giant ocean tank which runs the height of the building. Here’s a top view:

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The main event at the Faneuil market was me eating what the menu informed me to be a 1900 calorie sundae at the chocolate shop Chirardelli:

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After I waddled out I had to return to the airport to face my sixteen hour journey home which included a thirteen hour stopover at Dubai airport (let us not speak of that).

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