My First Conference! ASAB Easter 2018

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the ASAB (Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour) Easter Conference at Plymouth University. It was a welcome break from job hunting and a chance to meet some really interesting people who are shaping the field of behavioural research.

The conference is aimed specifically at early career researchers. As I’ve mentioned before, that’s a step further than I am in my non-existent career, but did mean the level and advice was more relevant, and also that it was a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

During the first day I definitely suffered from ‘imposter syndrome’, since I’m not currently studying or researching anything and don’t know for sure that I will again. However, over the course of the three days I met a lot of others who were feeling the same, and no one seemed to care about my lack of a career, early or otherwise. It was also a nice surprise to bump into my manager from the Dwarf Mongoose Project and a few other previous ‘goosers.

The plenary talks by more established researchers were all fascinating. The first was on robotics, a field with seemingly only a tangential connection to animal behaviour. However, I’m sure this is going to become more established, both due to its questions (about cognition) and the very exciting prospects for using robots in research. Damien Farine spoke about simple rules that create complex systems in social animals, Lynne Sneddon gave an exceptional talk on her research in fish welfare as well as how to reach out to maximise the impact of your research, and Audrey Dussutour amazed us all with learning in slime moulds (although I have never underestimated slime moulds).

There were three training workshops: the ‘Anti-CV’ workshop on problems faced by early career researchers, a grant writing workshop, and a publishing workshop. The first was the most entertaining for sure! Looking at examples of other peoples’ grant applications was interesting, but the core of the advice I felt was quite common sensical – make sure to address each of the criteria specified in the description of the grant. If I ever do publish a scientific paper it won’t be for a while yet, and I can’t help thinking (hoping?) the publishing industry will change significantly in that time (a post for another day).

For me the highlight was definitely the presentations by early career researchers themselves, who ranged from Masters students to those in the final stages of their PhDs. While they varied in slickness they were fascinating. Simply due to my own interests, I most enjoyed Stephanie Harris’ talk on personality and foraging in kittiwakes and Svenja Tidau’s on the impacts of ship noise on hermit crabs.

I also really enjoyed the poster session, and not just because of the free wine. I was particularly impressed by (and not at all jealous of…) the undergraduates who had the initiative to carry out and go on to present their own research, which so far as I could tell was equal in quality to the postgraduate work. My favourite (again entirely because of its alignment with my interests) was Laura Roberts’ on the effects of vessels on harbour porpoises in Brixham. She’s in the second year of her degree but I think she has probably found the study population she’ll be working on for years to come.

If I do find myself in behavioural research in the future I will definitely be looking at the ASAB Easter Conference as a first place to present it. As it is I really enjoyed my first conference and would definitely like to go again in the future, particularly as I imagine I will increasingly see my friends on the list of speakers.

Finally a big thanks to ASAB for giving me a travel grant to attend!

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