Every year, at some point during March/April, scientists gather in a European country to take part in the European Cetacean Society (ECS) conference. This year the conference was held on the beautiful island of Madeira and a few of us marine mammal Master’s students decided to go. It was an incredible experience, we got to explore a new place, meet great fellow students from other countries and talk to some of the biggest names in cetacean science.
We wanted to give you all a little practical guide on what to expect and some tips on making the most of the conference experience!
>> First of all, make sure you check the deadlines for early bird (usually around January) and late (usually around February) online registration, as well as student support awards, so you can get your tickets at a discounted price! If you forget however, don’t worry, you can always pay a bit more and register in person at the venue.<<
Before the start of the ECS conference itself, which lasts 3 days, scientists and other people responsible for the event organise 2 days of a wide variety of workshops. The workshops offer everyone the chance to learn about something new they have never heard of/seen before, to learn specialised skills required for many scientists (from using R to how to help disentangle a whale from a net!), to share views and advice on specific delicate topics (such as attending strandings), to learn how to communicate science to the general public (working on whale watching tours), and even some interesting policy and legislation related workshops that help you finally understand how the law in this marine science world actually works in Europe!
>> We recommend that you check the list of workshops as early as possible, so you can choose the one you want to attend and make sure you get a spot, as some of them have limited spaces, especially the free student workshops! <<
Each year the conference is focused on a specific theme, this year’s was “Into the deep: Research and Conservation on Oceanic Marine Mammals”. The best talks are accepted to be presented, they are chosen based on their relation to this theme and are split into categories: behaviour, ecology, physiology, conservation, etc. One of the best things about this conferences is that you get to learn about current research advances in different marine science topics (mostly on cetaceans, but they also often include other marine mammals) and learn all about state-of-the-art scientific investigations presenting the latest findings or new techniques to the scientific community.
There are also 5-minute ‘short’ talks and scientific poster sessions. These offer a great opportunity for students to share their work, like their undergraduate/master’s thesis, with other scientists who will often give you advice or even offer to collaborate with you in one way or another!
>> If you’re thinking of presenting your research work either as a talk or a poster, make sure you check the abstracts’ submission deadline well in advance, as this usually falls around October of the previous year to the conference (so keep an eye on the deadline coming this October for the 2017 conference) 😉 <<
The talks and posters also offer you the chance to learn about new topics or get more specific knowledge on those that you already know you want to specialise in. Whether you have a specific area of interest or are just interested in everything related to marine mammals, all of these events give you the opportunity to learn something new about your species of interest or pique your interest in something you’ve never considered before, you never know what they might surprise you with until you see it!
All of the talks are timetabled and can be found in the programme posted online in advance and that you also get upon registering at the venue. This means you can pick and choose which talks you want to attend. If, like us, you are into all things related to marine mammals, you will find yourself staying for every talk, even the ones you thought you might not be interested in!
>> We recommend that you take a good look at this at least the week before the conference so you can plan your days well in advance and make sure you don’t miss those workshops or talks/posters you are so interested in 😉 <<
In between the long conference days there are always coffee breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, these are quite short and give you just enough time to grab a drink and try and find that researcher you really want to meet and ask a million questions: NETWORKING TIME! Make sure you know who you are introducing yourself to, that you clearly let them know what you are interested in and that you ask them the most important questions for you, and never forget to exchange contact details before they disappear (or if you have a business card already, all the better!).
>> Think about who you would like to talk to before going, getting hold of people isn’t as easy as it seems, so make sure you make the most of talking to them! <<
It really is one of the main aspects of these conferences… it is actually soooo important to keep up with everyone in this small cetacean scientific community! You can make important new contacts with students and researchers, who could even possibly end up being your future employers!!! Fellow students or recently graduated students can give you great insight into how they got where they are and give you tips on how to gain more experience (and don’t forget that you may end up working on a research project with these people!). Researchers have experience and knowledge that they enjoy sharing, make the most of it! Sharing information and interests is the best way to get connected with the scientific community, and it will help you find future employments.
Lunch breaks are over an hour, but don’t let that fool you, between talking to colleagues and finding somewhere to eat (and getting the bill!) that time can disappear and you will probably find yourself running back to the venue to try and make it to the next talk.
After the poster sessions in the afternoon of the first conference-day, there’s usually a video night event and contest in which researchers and NGOs will delight you with short videos of their amazing work, the most gorgeous crystalline waters they sailed, the cutest animal encounters, a first account of some astonishing behaviour or an unfortunate find at sea. These will all then compete for the best video prize, which together with the prizes for the best research and student’s talks, as well as the best poster, will be announced at the end of the last day.
On the last day of the conference, during one of the breaks, NGOs and whale watching companies set up presentations about their research and conservation work and ways in which you can get involved. Lots of volunteering opportunities, some internships and even job openings get mentioned during these presentations, so attending may give you an idea of where to go next. This is a unique chance to hear about these almost ‘secret opportunities’ that you can normally only find out about if you know the right person 😉
>> We recommend making an effort to stay and listen to these last short talks! <<
And last but not least, one of the great things of attending these conferences is that you get to travel around! Professors may remind you it’s not the most important part but let’s be honest, there is a big upside to going to conferences, you get an excuse to go travelling to different countries every year!
>> Our recommendation is to go a few days before or stay a few days after the conference (before or after the 2 workshop days+3 conference programme days) to explore the hosting city and surroundings, that way you can definitively cross it off your list (unlike us, who are dying to go back!) 🙂 <<
Here’s all the information you may need to plan your first conference attendance!
We hope this has given you enough reasons to start saving some money and thinking about what you want to do at the next 31st Annual ECS Conference in Denmark!
Hope to see you there! 🙂
Sam Blakeman and Alicia Cardona
MSc Marine Mammal Science students 2015/16