Thanks, BES, for keeping me connected

As British Ecological Society’s Festival of Ecology is properly over, I just wanted to say thank you to the BES team for putting on a great conference full of wonderful events and research. More than that, I wanted to thank the whole BES community for being a lifeline connecting me to the scientific world through the last year. It’s been a tough year for so many people, and for myself and many other PhD students, isolation and motivation have been really issues in such a stressful time. The BES community has helped me somewhat to combat this.

Lockdown lifeline

I went to stay with my parents in rural Worcestershire for the majority of the lockdown, when my housemates went home too. Whilst my parents are great company, they’re not academically minded in the slightest and I really felt a disconnect many other first-generation graduates will be familiar with. I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful, friendly department at Nottingham, and various meetings kept my connected to my research group at Nottingham and to others within my field. But with department events there was an inevitable feeling of loss (I missed my friends!) and an underlying guilt that everyone was probably working harder than me. And, as someone at the beginning of my research journey, I haven’t had too long to build up my network yet.

The Ecology Live talks were a great connection to the wider ecology community. Also, being relatively short and broad-ranging in topics, they were an easy way to engage in science when my brain was struggling to focus in amongst the chaos of the wider world. Having another regular event to add to an unusually empty schedule was good, but it was great to be able to catch up on missed talks via YouTube too.

The Niche magazine also provided this sense of connection, and a much-needed departure from screen time. I was happy to see commentary on some of the issues we were facing as a society and in academia. Both the Niche and the video lectures allowed me to feel part of the ecology community without an expectation of actively participating. Whilst I definitely did use this an excuse to procrastinate and avoid my actual work, it was really a lifeline.

#BES2020 – Festival of Ecology

The Festival of Ecology was something to look forward to, where I would be able to contribute to the community I’d relied on through the year. For much of the pandemic, it’s been difficult to stay on track without the usual routine or goals to focus towards, so this was really nice. Then, things began to become more normal, meaning that I was actually so busy that the conference became a light at the end of the tunnel- an end to lab work for the year!

I once again turned to BES to connect me to the scientific community and provide some ecology related excitement to distract from the wider world. Despite the difficult year, some really amazing work has been carried out! Others have written some great reviews of the conference (e.g. here and here), but here are my thoughts as a first time attendee:

So much to see!

The conference was done very well, in my opinion, especially considering the scale of the event. It was a lot to navigate, so for the week of the conference, I mostly stuck to the live events. I really enjoyed the plenary lectures and the thematic sessions. Whilst it was undoubtedly a different experience to an in-person conference, it was nice to have so many sessions available on-demand and to have speakers and attendees who might have otherwise been unable to attend. It also brings up an important question about the carbon footprint of conferences (but maybe that’s for another blog post…).

Delegates came from all over the world!

I wish I’d been able to attend more of the workshop sessions, as from what I’ve heard these were really useful and one of the more interactive parts of the conference. It was also a shame that these weren’t recorded as when I could attend there were still clashes with many interesting sessions happening at once. I thought it was great that most other sessions were recorded though, and I really appreciated the added flexibility of the platform. There were also so many prerecorded talks and posters available, which was really cool (if a little overwhelming)! Having a solid month to go back over content did make it a bit easier to see make the most of what was available.

Keeping attention was tough – engaging with others helped

It was undoubtedly harder to engage given the lack of in person interactions, and I know I wasn’t alone in struggling to maintain focus. I really liked the quite corner, and following various tags on twitter to see what people were getting up to through the week. I made a (slightly lopsided) Christmas wreath and did some present wrapping whilst listening to some talks. I also enjoyed the evening sessions I attended, and whilst zoom hangouts are always a little awkward, it was nice that there were still opportunities to chat and network.

Keeping busy during talks with some wreath making. I may have collected too much holly…
My contribution to the BES ecology- themed mugs. The Great Outdoors!

I was working my way through talks and posters right up to the final day. There were really so many, and during the live conference, I didn’t get to read many and engage in the live chat as much as I maybe could have. I was happy to have received questions, but it was frustrating to be unable to converse as well as in person. I found myself drafting and rewriting responses which would usually be a simple comment in person. It would have also been handy if speakers were notified when someone commented or asked a question, or when a speaker responded. I ended up chasing people on their social media in some cases because I didn’t respond on the day. I hope to continue to build on connections and ideas created through the conference.

The Special Interest Groups were a nice way to engage with the conference too, through the evening events and their media. I definitely want to get more involved in future events for the SIGs I’m part of. I found the daily playlists were helpful showcasing which talks to check out (I was pretty happy to be included in the one, thanks!). Even so, I still feel like I didn’t get to see as many of the posters and talks as I wanted too. I think that’s the same as at in person conferences, so I’m not beating myself up over it.

By next year, hopefully, we’ll be able to meet in person. In the meantime, I plan to attend some of the Applied Ecology Resources workshops and SIG events this year, and I look forward to the return of the Ecology live talks too! Thanks, BES for keeping me in the loop with ecology research, here in the UK and overseas.

Check out the BES website here, and their youtube channel (for previous Ecology Live talks and more) here.

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