The second conference prep
It’s conference season. When I say season I mean season, how many conferences can be crammed into the span of two months? I’m not sure, but I do know that just for my field specifically there are three going on in the next seven days and while I do wish I could attend all three, for the sake of my sanity, health, and the safety of the time-space continuum I’m limiting the number of things I am doing. Conference season, on one hand I missed it. For the past two years COVID has basically eliminated all the major conferences in my field. Unfortunately for me, COVID is still a thing, sooooo we’re playing it safe with the good ol’ N95. That said, let’s dive into what the next week will look like and the prep I’m doing for conference number two.
DARPA Forward is upon us! Not quite, but close enough that I’m getting all the finalized itinerary and what not out of the way. Everyone wanted my attention today from DARPA to school and work, apparently there was little time for anything else. Which means I got little done in terms of prep, but what I did get done I made sure counted for something. Since we’re talking about it, let’s take it in order really quick and discuss all three of the conferences that are happening (even the one I will not be attending).
SfN, how I miss you!!!! SfN or Society for Neuroscience is a huge conference. I’m talking giant. It’s amazing and for the past two years it hasn’t happened. This year it’s happening and it appears there’s a vaccination requirement and masks are “highly recommended,” which is incredibly disappointing for my friends who will be attending SfN and some of my work labmates who will be going as well. We’re talking roughly 30,000 people attending from around the world, so I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. /sarcasm In any case, I’m missing out, which is probably for the best.
The other two conferences I’ll be attending are significantly smaller. The DARPA conference will be 30 students, that much I know. I’m not sure about the size of the attendance though, probably a few hundred, maybe close to 1000 on the super high end? I’ve never attended a DARPA Forward event, so I only have vague numbers to go off of. The internet isn’t very helpful in that regard, in fact when I got nominated I thought it may have been a scam because I couldn’t find much/anything about it. Unfortunately for me, all the conferences are, “attend at your own risk” and hope for the best, but on the brightside, it will be a far smaller event with a much larger space to person ratio. If you’ve ever attended SfN you know what I mean.
The last conference is the smallest of the bunch, but it’s one that I’m excited about because there’s a decent (fingers crossed) chance that I could win a prize, the prize being cash. Which is a good prize if you ask me! So while the DARPA conference will help me in the future (hopefully!), the last conference has the potential to help me in the present. I’ve already been awarded a speaking slot, so that’s half the battle down. The problem is I’ve been awarded a speaking slot.
Which brings us to the prep portion of the post.
As with DARPA, I’m making a structured bullet point list of things I want to cover. It will be an outline instead of trying to dictate a speech. If you’ve never heard me complain about my ability to read words off a paper, well I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say anytime I’ve written a speech like that, I’ve spent hours recording the 3-5 minutes it takes to say the words. That said, I have a much easier time with something a little less structured. Not to the point where I’m just winging it without any practice, but enough that I don’t trip over my words if I swap out a word in my speech with something I think fits better, which I’m known to do when I’m recording a prewritten talk.
Once I have the outline done, I practice a few times. Like literally start the slides and pretend to present to the monitor. With the past two years of presentations via zoom, this feels like second nature these days! Then I give it a day and repeat the process. Mostly I time myself and make sure that the choice of words still is under the maximum time I get for the talk. It also gives me a chance to familiarize myself with what I want to say and to check the flow of the speech. My aim isn’t to sound robotic or like I’m reading something off a paper, it’s to make it sound like I’m having a conversation with someone.
I plan on practicing a few more times between now and when the conference comes around, but for now my main focus is on the DARPA conference. Since I’m presenting the same work at both conferences, prep does (for the most part) apply to both. For DARPA I was specifically told that I should talk about my military service and how it lead me to the work I’m doing now. I’m also highlighting potential medical applications the stuff I’m working on has. The other conference won’t be so military focused and unlike the DARPA conference it will be with a room full of neuroscientists/neuroengineers so I can (and should) be more technical in my talk than the DARPA side. The time limit for the talks and the slide requirements are different as well, so I need to do a bit of tailoring for both.
While I HIGHLY doubt I will get selected for the Risers talk, I do want to practice both. Because like I said, you never know what could happen. And frankly if I’m being honest, my whole goal is to do what I can to get selected for one of the speaking slots (5 slots for roughly 30 people so a 1 in 6 chance I’ll get a spot. Not great odds, but not bad odds either. I just need to be on top of everything, meaning making sure I have everything I need when I arrive for the conference and that I’ve prepped enough to talk about my work and answer questions. More generally I am aiming (for both conferences) to be memorable. I think that will be the most I could hope for out of both.
So yeah, lots of prep and not quite sleepless nights, but there’s still a ton to do between now and Monday (when I leave for DARPA Forward). Speaking of which, if my posting goes spotty again, well just know it’s worth it! haha But even though I’ve got most of the stuff ready for the conferences, I still have the “fancy” stuff I need to (or was asked to try to) get done to show off to the members of DARPA who are coming specifically to the lab to tour on the day of the second conference (because of course that’s how it works). If I get it done, it will make a ton of work for me that day, plus all the work between now and then to get it ready and running. It’s the “fancy” stuff for a reason, lots of programming and most of it I’ve never even attempted before, so that’s fun.
I don’t think it will happen, I’ve explained to school-PI that despite my best efforts I don’t think it will happen, but I’m going to try anyway. The bar is set low enough that no one (especially myself) will be surprised if it doesn’t happen. This is like 2-3 months worth of work crammed into just a few weeks, so not super surprising I guess. Maybe school-PI will be surprised if I can’t get it done, then again he should know better than anyone that this is hard. Still, we have to try so at least I can say I did that much. Plus it will help propel the rest of my dissertation work, which is still very behind schedule!
With that, it’s late and I need a break!
Oh on a quick side note, it’s November 10th, which is the Marine Corps birthday. Normally, I don’t talk about it on my blog, or at last I don’t think I do, but what the heck. While tomorrow is Veteran’s day the Marine Corps birthday is (for me) more of an actual celebration than Veteran’s day, which is just sad frankly. I mean it’s fine and I won’t tell you not to say, “thank you for your service” to a Veteran, despite having to fight the strong urge to tell you to fuck off anytime I hear it (most of us do I think), but I have fond memories of the Marine Corps birthday so I always remember it (unlike most other holidays and even my birthday). Like I say, I have a complicated love/hate relationship with the military in general. In any case, 247 years and you’re still looking sharp, not bad Marines.