Mr. Noodle

Mr. Noodle
Mr. Noodle

Saturday, November 28, 2015

my field's biggest academic conference in San Francisco

So: the reason I wasn't able to write a blog post three Fridays ago is because I was in San Francisco for a conference. I had a poster accepted and therefore needed to be there to present it. My supervisor's grant would have paid for my trip, but I applied for and won two travel awards: one was a matching grant between my department and Graduate Studies at the U, the other was a travel award that only applied to international students. As I am not yet a citizen, I qualified and won!

My flight was for 6:30am on Friday the 13th. I arrived at the airport at 5:45am which, it turns out, was too late. I had not accounted for the 300 people in the TSA lineup. They rescheduled me for another flight, four hours later that would take me to Seattle first and then SFO. So I settled in to a day of airports and airplanes and trying to catch wifi and charging stations. It wasn't so bad, really, but travelling is tiring. When I finally did get to my hotel around 6:00, I met up with my friends from the department, my roommate for our five days at the hotel, P, and my office comrade, B. We dropped our luggage and found dinner before retiring for the night.

Saturday was a day of pre-symposia tutorials. The first one was one on getting evaluation education into biomedical informatics programs. I was finally able to meet some characters I have only connected with online or whose papers I have read. Yes there is such a thing as academic fandom. It was great to put names to faces. I had also started tweeting the sessions I attended from my research twitter handle (not @yarnsalad). The afternoon session I went to wasn't very interesting but I did at the coffee break connect with a friend and former student of our department who moved away a couple of months ago, so it was good to catch up with him. I knew this conference would be one big happy reunion. Then I snuck off with some friends from SLC whom I had not seen in a while and went to a pub for a pint. That evening, I went with those same friends and one new friend to a fancy restaurant and discovered how awesome Uber is.

Sunday morning began with getting to the hotel gym at 6:15am, and I should have gone earlier to get a full workout in. I had to rush because I had a breakfast date arranged via Twitter more than a month ago with two Twitter friends - one I hadn't met yet (great sidebar story: Kim and I found each other on Twitter because of knitting, then we discovered we work in the same field and that we were both going to this conference! Also we both have personal as well as professional Twitter accounts.) and one who graduated with a PhD from my program at UVic the year I began my first Master's. Nice breakfast, too.

That morning's tutorial was about how to be a good leader within the organization and how to get into positions of leadership. I made some good connections there and met some more people who are famous in our industry. That day I found David's Deli and had an excellent kosher lunch.

It was after lunch on Sunday that the symposium officially began. Before the opening keynote speaker, the president and CEO of the organization welcomed everyone. He mentioned the Twitter stats for the day and a half of tutorials, and in the top 4 tweeters, he named me second! After that and for the rest of the conference, everyone from my department commented on my Twitter fame.

Sunday evening was busy, socially. There was the welcome reception where all the vendors and schools had booths in the exhibition room; ie, the place where all the free stuff is. I am happy to report that I now have 15 new pens, three water bottles, a couple of bags and some other fun trinkets. Later there was the reception for new members and new attendees. I'm on the membership committee for the organization so I went to interact with the new people. Rob, our organization's membership coordinator, brought some of us up to the front and gave us all a lovely introduction as "people we should talk to". It was Rob who I hold responsible for getting me back into the field at all, so I am happy to give back. I met some nice people, had too many extremely excellent desserts, and waited in anticipation to see if maybe I would win the raffle prizes of the bluetooth wireless headphones or the Apple watch! But alas, no, the headphones went to an alum from our department (so that's nice) and the Apple watch went to my friend and office mate mentioned above, B. After that reception, my hotel roommate P and I went up to the 46th floor for the Women in Informatics Networking Event. It was kind of an awkward space though so we ended up mostly just talking to each other. We haven't spent much time together outside of our one class prior to the conference, so it was really fun getting to know her, actually.

On Monday, P and I met for breakfast the group of people who had agreed to be mentors for the 10 high school scholars for this conference as well as the students themselves. I met the student I had been paired with, but for reasons, we didn't actually get to see each other much that day. I did get to meet his dad later though and got a photo of him with his poster. Nice kid, I was glad to hear he is planning to do a computer science degree (and then I recommended doing our Master's at UUtah). I live tweeted some interesting sessions. I spent some time with Barb in our booth in the exhibition room, talking to people about our program. Went back to David's Deli for lunch, this time a salad to go, which was also excellent. My committee chair gave a presentation about why our department is so awesome and other than the four people from our department who attended (and were also live tweeting), I think there were maybe three other people, so that was a bummer. We need to figure out a way to show people how great it is to live in Utah.

The last session of the day was the presentations of the high school scholars. Five of them had papers, the other five (including my buddy) had posters. It was a very well attended session, standing room only. One of the organizers introduced the program and the names of all the graduate student mentors went up on the big screen - three students from our department, Utah was well-represented!

The thing about these conferences is that you are not done when the sessions finish at 5pm. I still had two other events to attend. The first was the membership committee - we usually meet by Citrix for an hour every month, but this time we finally got to meet in person. It was really cool to put faces to names. I had to leave that meeting early though, because our department chair had arranged a dinner for our department people and alumni at a nearby restaurant. It was a fun evening and I was glad for an early night - after all this busy time I needed some down time.

Tuesday morning I got up at 5:30 to get to the gym earlier (since I had another 7:00 breakfast date). When I got to the gym at 5:45, every one of the 20 exercise machines were full and there were three people waiting. Eventually I got onto a spin bike and put in a 45-minute workout. The 7:00 breakfast was to meet with all the people who had been working on the Year in Review - 18 of us had spent the last six months reviewing 1400 articles to see what was relevant and what kinds of themes have emerged in our field since the last Symposium. That was awesome. It was great to meet those people just before the session where our leader, Patti, presented them to an overstuffed room with at least 1,000 people. Again my name on the big screen. She did an amazing job of condensing all that information into a synopsis.

Tuesday was my big day partly because of that, but also because it was my day for my poster presentation (there were about 400 posters, split into two days). I had bought myself a suit back in August to wear for that day, that moment. I attended my poster from 5:00-6:30pm. At the end of it, one of the organization's staff members came up to me with the photographer and asked to take my photo. I was so touched! They appreciated all the tweeting I had done and my level of commitment to the organization. So lots of arranging of hair and ears, turn this way, lean in, he took a few dozen snaps. A week later, she sent me these:

She said "you never know where this photo will turn up". Of course I sent her an email back, squeeing, which made her day. :-)

Back to the Symposium. After my poster presentation was done, I went to my room and changed into the dress I wore to another fancy restaurant for dinner. I also got in a half-hour phone conversation with Dan - in the few days I was there I hadn't had much time to chat with him other than to say things were going great (me) and the kitty misses me (him). Dinner was great and fun, I really enjoyed my dinner company. When I got back to the hotel I found my office mate B and we ended up chatting with one of the organization's leaders for half an hour about movies, of all things. So great to make that human connection.

Wednesday was the last day. We had no breakfast plans so were happy when they had muffins out for the morning coffee break. (My room mate P and I are both students and experienced free food scavengers). The closing keynote was just after lunch and once again they mentioned the conference's Twitter stats. They showed a slide with the top 10: I was number 5, a post-doc from our department was number 7, and our department (me) was number 10. Go Utah!  The closing keynote was great and I think he gave us all some good ideas for how to move forward.

I was sitting next to B for the closing, and afterward when people were leaving, we stood up and turned around to find one of our department's alumni with two people on his team from South Carolina - I had not met any of them before but we all became fast friends and decided to have lunch together. We found a great little Pakistani restaurant (one of the women we were with is Pakistani) and I swear it was the best meal I had in San Francisco. Sooooo good. (why didn't I take a picture of my chicken tikka masala?) Then we walked over the hill to Ghirardelli Square because of course, it's San Francisco. Burned off all the lunch calories doing that walk! Had a fabulous time with our three new friends and we hope to turn that into a more formal collaboration in the future.

B and I retrieved our luggage from the hotel and went to meet a Twitter friend whom I've been Twitter friends with since I first signed up back in 2009! We've been through a lot together and we finally met in person! It was so awesome to meet Heather and I hope next time I can spend more time with her in her city. B and I took BART to the airport, went to our departure gates, and he went off to another conference on the east coast while I went home, to sleep, to catch up on a week of being away.

I will be finishing my degree, my second Master's degree, in April 2016. While they are still encouraging me to do a PhD, (and made a very persuasive pitch), I think I am going to stay the course. Part of my effort at this conference was to see what kind of work is out there (I was invited to go to Seattle, Nashville, and Portland). I really love Salt Lake though, I have no plans to leave it any time soon. More on the job front as I find out what's happening...

1 comment:

  1. So great to see how far you've come since getting to SLC. Great phot will come in handy in the future I'm sure!