August 2015 marked the beginning of the 6th European Phycological Congress. Cohosted by the Federation of European Phycological Societies (FEPS) and The British Phycological Society (BPS), EPC6 took over Hammersmith, London from the 24th-28th of August. Boasting over one hundred talks and posters based across 16 symposia. EPC6 covered a hugely diverse range of topics in an even broader field of study.
Symposia titles ranged from ’Phycomorph: Morphogenesis and Development of Macroalgae’ to ’Algal-microbiome Interactions: Integrative Overview from Biology to Chemistry’; and from ’Agal Diversity and Species Delimitation: New Tools, New Insights’ to ’Algae and Signalling - Regulation of Processes from Cell to Globe’. These were just four of a total sixteen symposia, demonstrating the sheer volume of phycological research occurring within Europe and even wider global fields.
EPC6 encompassed huge diversity of research in the phycological community.
Blogging a conference is never an easy task. A talk by talk account would make for an uninspiring read, where an account of just my thoughts of the event would be equally captivating. As such, let’s aim for a balance between the two with a few impressions of this Ph.D student’s first major conference thrown in for good measure.
Upon registering for the conference, I was unsure what to expect. This is the first major conference of any size that I had attended, let alone presented a poster at. Prior to EPC6, my conference experiences were limited to a student presentation day at the end of the final year of my undergraduate programme.
Needless to say, EPC6 had a very different feel to it. The conference had attracted some big names within the field of phycology, with plenary talks from John Archibald, Ellen Van Donk and Ester A Serrao. As well a prestigious plenary speakers, EPC6 gave the opportunity to give faces to a reference list. Nothing really prepares you for being stood opposite a researcher you’ve cited countless times. There is finally a place to direct all your questions with a direct opportunity for answers, which has the combined affect of making you temporarily forget the entire English language.
As I’ve mentioned, phycology is an extremely broad field of research, and as such EPC6 canvassed a diverse array of topics. Not all of these topics were directly relevant to my current research aims, however, many were incredibly useful and inspiring.
Furthermore, I managed to make some interesting contacts through the poster sessions. Fortunately, posters were displayed throughout the week, where as at larger conferences you would perhaps get one afternoon for your poster. This allowed me to split my time between manning my own poster for questions and questioning others work. I managed to find posters that had implications for my work, such as high resolution microscopy images of potential study species, which has in turn led to new ideas for an additional thesis chapter.
Preliminary collaborations were also confirmed, through speaking to people working in a similar field but at different institutes, making EPC6 a very successful conference for me.
Impressions and “Take-Homes”
As EPC6 was my first conference of any scale, let alone one of nearly 500 delegates, I realised very quickly that it’s incredibly difficult to listen to every talk that’s relevant. Due to the number of speakers and attendees, running parallel sessions was a necessity. Where it gives the advantage of being able to have more speakers, it causes delegates to compromise if two interesting talks overlap in the schedule. This is an issue that really affected my overall conference experience.
“It is incredibly difficult if not impossible, to speak to everybody”
The second take home, is that you need to prioritise. With a conference of this size, and for those even larger, it is impossible to talk to everyone. On the first day of the conference, I was given a book of abstracts, published by Talyor-Francis - one of the event sponsors. For me, this book doubled as a book of contacts, I was able to spend the lunch of the first day flicking through the abstracts, highlighting the people that I wanted to speak to. This practice seemed to work for me, as I was able to tick most of the directly relevant researchers off my wish list by the final day of the conference.
All in all, EPC6 was a great experience for me, and I’m already looking forward to future conferences, and making the jump from just presenting a poster to giving a talk.