My name is Virginia and I think I’m turning into an addict.
SCB. ESA. WFF. They sound like the latest street drugs, but they’re scientific meeting acronyms and just as addictive—at least for me, recently. I’ve attended five conferences in the last five months.
Science journalists are story-seeking junkies by nature. We rely on press releases, new journal publications, and Google alerts to track and report on the science. But, as Emily Sohn puts it, this type of internet trolling can leave a journalist feeling like everything has already been written about.
Interacting with scientists in their element–presenting their latest data–offers insights beyond research findings, arguably the more interesting bits. A heartfelt anecdote? Gripping. The pointed question at the end of the talk? I’m rapt. The political statement that would never make it into a scientific publication? Can’t get enough.
Colleague Liza Gross recently shared that it was only a couple of slides during a talk focused on citizen science that eventually turned into a NY Times Science story highlighting concerns that well-intentioned tropical milkweed plantings may alter monarch butterfly behavior.
The reality is one afternoon symposium can reveal more about the dynamics at play in a scientific field than reading a year’s worth of papers. The characters, goals, hierarchies, and budding controversies all laid bare in a few short hours. Even better is when the arch-rivals show up. This week I camped out behind the obvious industry executives intent on hearing what academics were discovering about their agricultural products.
The reality is you have to sit through a lot of (sometimes painful) talks to find a winner. Not surprisingly, everyone develops a conference strategy. Monya Baker, a self-proclaimed homebody, hates going to conferences. She sticks solely to the talks that interest her or the ones that are crowded.
Jill Adams takes a chill-axed approach. “I do better if I talk myself into being relaxed –like so relaxed that I don’t care if I find a story or not,” she says. “It’s the worrying about finding a good story to justify my attendance that undermines my ability to find a good story.”
Inevitably, however, all the talks you want to attend are at the same time, on different sides of the conference center. “The hardest part for me is the panicky feeling of picking from among simultaneous sessions that seem interesting and worrying that I am missing out on something better,” says Emily.
Her comment made me realize the root of my obsession. I can’t shake the sensation that the “big” story is just one more session away.
Having written a list of a dozen viable feature pitches from the last few months, I’m realizing my problem. I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush of hunting down the next story. What I need to do is make good on the past rushes instead of looking for the next score.
I’ll re-read Anne Sasso‘s procrastination chapter tomorrow.