Nice conferencing with you!

I looked rather wistfully at the conference calendar – all the conferences on in the next few weeks which I want to attend.

Alas, teaching commitments and insufficient funds mean I can attend a very few.

But, why this allure (of conferences)?

Apart from the technical knowledge to be gained, the networking and connections to be made, and the latest advances to learn about, there is more.

I like travelling and seeing new places, meeting local people and eating local cuisine. Usually conferences are in towns/cities where there is some sightseeing to be had: at Specialty Optical Fibers in Colorado Springs, USA, I went to see the Manitou cliff Indian dwellings and the Garden of the Gods. The natural beauty of the place was breathtaking and exhilarating.

While at my hotel, I had conversations with other guests, including an amazing couple from Texas who were touring the United States on motorbike. We chatted about Colorado and the conversation ended with my friend saying, “nice visiting with you”. Ah, the southern pleasantry delivered in a genuine Texan accent by a warm, friendly person was the highlight of that morning. It brought alive an entire culture for me.

Of course, at the conference, I had the occasion to meet people from all over the world. I had drinks with a very mixed bunch of students: Chinese, Indian and Mexican. I met an esteemed colleague from Japan and one from Scotland presently working in Malaysia. It’s like a melting pot in the best possible way.

And I cannot not talk about the shopping! One thing I enjoy enormously when  travelling abroad is browsing in shops and buying little gifts to take home to my friends and family (and big gifts for myself!). Invariably, I strike up conversations with other shoppers, leading to much fun. In Colorado, a fellow shopper and I spent 30 pleasurable minutes finding the ‘perfect’ notebook for me while we discussed our stationary fetish.

Scientists can be a serious lot, concentrated and hardworking. At conferences that we’ve spent a lot of money to attend, obviously we want to maximise the benefit. However, the image of geeks who dont have any fun is not the stereotype to adhere to! for me, personally, the correlation between technical benefits and fun is extremely large.

So, maybe I’ll run into you at a conference, and we can swap conference stories.

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