Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Conference Season" - The value of attending a professional conference in the aquatic sciences

2015 NEAPMS Conference.  Photo Credit: Gideon Putnam Resort
The professional or academic conference is seen by many as a burden to our busy schedules.  Time that can be used to finish up a manuscript, work in the field, writing a proposal, or increasing your client list, may seem much more important than hours of endless presentations, mediocre continental breakfasts, and workshops.  There is however, much more to look forward to with these meetings than the occasional cash bar and free food.  For most of us in the aquatics industry, the winter and early spring time seems to be the time for such events .  While water temps (and plant growth) are at their lowest, the winter months are a time to take advantage of a number of aquatics conferences around the country.  For today, lets discuss the FIVE main reasons for you to register, grab a name tag, and attend a conference near you!

Photo Credit:  SCAPMS
1.)  What's going on in Aquatics? - The aquatics field in general is certainly a specialized field, but strangely enough, we are also extremely diverse!  Academic types focus on a wide variety of subjects including aquatic plant management, control, restoration, mapping, etc. while industry representatives tout products from pond aeration to remote sensing equipment.  Often we become so specialized in our work that we lose sight of what others are doing and thereby become constrained to our own thinking processes and ideas.  Attending a professional conference allows us to not only share the work that we are doing, but get a grasp on what others are doing in our unique field.  This in turn allows for active collaboration on future projects and develops partnerships to advance our science, perhaps even over a beer or two.

Photo Credit:  SCAPMS
2.)  Development of Professional Relationships and Collaboration - As a spin off from number 1, conference attendance greatly fosters professional relationships.  Sitting through those hours of presentations, you may find some research that sparks your interest.  Better yet, you may even see the potential to collaborate with other scientists in your field who will hopefully be equally as excited about your work as you are with theirs.  For industry, this is a chance for you to develop relationships with others in industry, and potentially grab a new client or two.  Most beneficial is the conference to a student, who may be new to the science and know very few people.  This is YOUR chance to meet and greet others and potentially land that job of a lifetime..... You're shy you say?  Volunteer with the BOD to sell raffle tickets and you'll get to meet the whole room!......

Becoming a vendor is a great way to make new contacts.
Photo credit: APMS
3.)  Gain Exposure - While conferences always do a great job at highlighting and rewarding research in aquatics, we will focus this reason mostly on you industry folks.  Starting a new company in aquatics and want to get the word around?  Conference directors are ALWAYS looking for vendors to fill that space in the hallway or ballroom.  Although it may seem pointless at times, your giant posters and handouts do provide a lot of information to people who probably don't really know as much about your products and services as you may think.  "You mean I can get a map of my pond?" or "I've been trying to find something to treat that for years..." are just a few things you will often hear, and often your product may be the solution to their problem.  Had you not been in attendance, they may have never known your product existed so prepare your expense report and attend a conference near you (bring some pens, coozies, and other swag too!)

4.) A Learning Opportunity - We have some of the greatest minds in science in our field, however even the oldest, wisest dog can learn a few new tricks, especially at a conference.  There are often a number of workshops and field trip opportunities available at conferences.  Often we look at the conference program to see workshops which don't necessarily "fit" our interests, but we recommend that you take advantage of any and all opportunities to learn something new (especially if there is no cost!).  Are you a fish guy or gal hesitant of the algal ID workshop?  Don't be, especially if you've had that moment in the field where you exclaimed "well, it may or may not produce toxins...."  Think you already know all there is to know about aquatic weed ID?  You'd be surprised at what you may pick up during a session, you know it all, you!
A number of field trip opportunities are available at conferences.  Photo Credit:   Aquatic Plant Management Society
5.)  Have some FUN! - This one so often gets lost in our work and we thought it should be included.  Spending countless hours in the office or on the water can really wear a person down.  A conference is a great place to do #1 through #4, all while having a little fun.  After the presentations and board meetings, most conferences have opportunities for attendees to let their hair down a little.  Events like 5Ks, duck races, golf, or fishing tournaments allow you to support the societies scholarship fund all while showing off your skills.  Banquets, meet-n-greets, or the occasional hospitality suite allow you to get to know others in your field.  Take advantage of the great food, drinks, and other freebies at a conference and relax a little!  Life is meant to be enjoyable!    
The always popular fishing tournament and duck race at the South Carolina APMS Meeting.  Photo Credit: SCAPMS
Likely many of us attended a number of different conferences over the past few months, sharing our work, learning of others work, picking up a few new tidbits of information, and even potentially having some fun along the way.  But if you didn't take the time out of your schedule to learn about or network within the aquatic sciences, we highly suggest that you take the time in 2014 to do so.  As many of us head out over the summer months to do research, manage our water resources, or satisfy our growing client list, remember to keep an eye out for events in the next "conference season".

For a list of conferences in the near future, visit our posting of events here.

For more on the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation, visit our website.

Stay tuned for more of the latest in aquatic plant management, science, and innovation!

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