Ceci n’est pas une chaise: a story of the chair experience.

Arguably the most important thing I had to do this week was co-chair a platform. Not that blogging isn’t super important (and you know the people at my own talk, I’m sure were blown away) but in my and my co-chair’s hands was the success of 8 scientists talks and the audience experience that surrounds them.

I had never given a talk at BPS until yesterday, and felt woefully under-qualified to help others do this thing I had never done before myself. To top that off I kept hearing people say, ‘You’re not making any friends by going over time, either as a speaker or a chair.’ The errors just pile up. Rumors fly (‘Did you hear session XYZ has completely phase shifted?’). Everyone is angry. No one gets to ask questions. What if this happens to me?

Fortunately, after only previously knowing one other person to chair a BPS session, this time a handful of my friends were also chairing sessions! I think this is maybe related to the fact that the ‘theme’ of this year’s BPS is basically what I do, and therefore also up-regulated in my friendship circle.

Anyway, I was able to get some friendly advice from people who had chaired the day before me, which was comforting. I learned there would be an IT guy who would take care of both setting up computers and setting up the timer, which was a huge relief. There’s this green light that turns yellow at the twelve minute mark, as a warning for the red light of doom that’ll come at 15 minutes. It was also suggested I get a pad of paper to take notes and jot down question ideas, because it is the chairs responsibility to not only keep the session on time, but also pay attention to the science and have a question handy.

This quickly became the most terrifying aspect of chairing. Especially as I noticed in other sessions how often this extra chair-induced question lubricant was necessary. Furthermore, I am not usually that great at thinking of questions in talks, generally getting my brilliant ideas a few hours after they’re actually useful.

So when the time came, I was a bit riled up, but luckily my co-chair turned out to be a relatively senior guy who seemed to know what he was doing, and I relaxed quickly. According to a grad student witness, the best part of the whole session happened before it even started: my co-chair’s phone alarm accidentally went off with a jazzy little tune, and I instinctively did a little dance, apparently visible to the audience because they laughed.

The first few talks went pretty smoothly: things were pretty much on time, and I was able to think of good questions! Then somehow we started slipping minute by minute later off schedule. Maybe because the talks were pretty cool ( phosphorylation near drug binding sites, green and black tea polyphenol’s effect on amyloid-beta formation in alzheimers, finding ligands that increase the probability of a particular protein-protein interaction, etc.), and I was concentrating on question duties. I think by the time we hit the fourth speaker and I was introducing the speakers instead of my co-chair (as part of our splitting-of-duties agreement), we were starting a full 7 minutes late. Then we had some technical difficulties. One of the speakers had to reboot their computer so it would be able to connect to the projector! Utter disaster.

What do we do? Do we stop letting people ask questions? Should I be making wild hand gestures in conjunction with the lights? But all the speakers are being really great about being on time, it’s just me with the questions and transitions that has been a little off. The little green light is surprisingly misleading, as it only relates to the speaker’s internal timing, not to the overall fact that we had already started seven minutes late!

Luckily it didn’t really matter that much. We’re here to do science. The talks were good. The questions were good. We started encouraging people to keep their questions quick, and overlapped questions with next speaker setup a little bit more, and I think ultimately we ended on time, with my talk at the end. At the end of it all, I think it all wrapped up well. I even had someone come up to me and say ‘Nice job chairing,’ then I must have made a surprised face or something, cause they followed up with, ‘Oh yeah, and nice job on the talk, too!’

This post first published on the Biophysical

Society’s blog as part of the 2015 Annual Meeting.

The art of perusing the program guide.

The Biophysical Society Program Guide is a beast. Throughout the conference, we’re all flipping through it page by page in the back of talks, trying to figure out what is the best use of our time. Some even skip sessions so they can concentrate on studying the program. I’ve yet to find my own perfect zen to navigate this guy, but as this is now my fifth time attending this conference, I thought a buzz-feed-esque top five ways to peruse your program guide, might be in order:

1. The classic: pen and paper.

A tried and true method popular among veterans and rookies alike. Part of the appeal of this method is its flexibility: boxes for people you know, stars for that demi-god of your field, smiley faces for clever titles, underlines for things you’re interested in but are not at all related to anything you do, etc.

2. The techy: fancy PDF highlighting on your super cool tablet.

I tried this last year using an Evernote app on my tablet. I looked forward to having the flexibility of pen and paper, but without having to lug around this huge ridiculous book. Sadly, the PDF was so big it took a long time to load and a long time to save. One time I even lost all the amazing little pink bubbles I made around the Tuesday Posters I wanted to check out. Needless to say, I’m back to more traditional methods this year… It is possible that the BPS 360 App, has made this a new and amazing experience, but… I haven’t tried it…

3. The PDF: mobile, simple.

Download the PDF (47.8 MB). Look at it on your phone. Search for things on your phone. Write gmail drafts to yourself if you need to remember a poster number or room number.

4. The company line: Biophysical Society’s web-based program guide.

It’s here. I have been using it to search for specific things when I’m doing other things on my computer anyway, or if I am hankering for another dose of that awesome fake page turning sound.

5. The random walk: there’s a program guide?

Follow your friends/labmates/PI’s. If you lose them, wander aimlessly until you make new friends, happen into something interesting, or decide to check out the aquarium on your own.

This post first published on the Biophysical

Society’s blog as part of the 2015 Annual Meeting.