This week around 100 climate scientists, meteorologists, oceanographers and modellers descended on Tortosa for CLIMATE-ES 2015, an International Symposium (capslock intended) about climate change research across the Iberian Peninsula.
It was the first time that such a meeting had been held in Spain (I think): an assembly that included researchers, meteorological organisations and government agencies. Although the symposium was international, 95% of attendees were Spanish. For me, it felt a bit like a meeting of the national meteorological society, like the AMOS conference in Australia.
Most of my colleagues and I were drafted to the local organising committee, and have spent the last month or more navigating all of the administration that is required to run a conference. In the end, it went quite well. Tortosa put on some amazing weather, everyone seemed to be talking to each other, and the morning and afternoon teas were delicious. All signs of a good event!
— Linden Ashcroft (@lindenashcroft) March 11, 2015
The only real drawback for me as a foreigner was that I really felt like one. The official languages of the symposium were English and Spanish, but 75% of the talks were in Spanish, with English slides.
I can’t decide how to feel about this. On one hand, the symposium was about Spain and the surrounding region. Why wouldn’t you talk about your country in your language? But on the other hand, surely it is good practice, particularly for the younger scientists, to present in English for future international conferences and workshops. In the end I felt a mixture of vague annoyance and shame for not knowing more Spanish already.
There were slides in English though, and generally the presenters had prepared well-structured talks with clear images and enough text on each screen for me to figure out what was going on. The presentations that I did understand were interesting and rewarding, and made me very excited to be working in a country with such a strong climate science community. There were even sessions dedicated to science communication and providing climate information to the wider community, both important topics that definitely need more air time among scientists.
But I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t pay attention to many presentations at all. Why? I think there are two main reasons.
I suffer from this affliction during every conference I attend – inspiration that leads to distraction. Something about sitting in a room with someone talking at me, being surrounded by my peers and realising that I am part of a wider scientific community is very inspiring to me. So inspiring that I want to do things! Research the scientist that is currently presenting, understand an atmospheric process I’ve forgotten about, learn how to draw that great-looking plot, finish that work I’ve been meaning to do, look up that recipe for slow-cooked lamb I’ve always wanted to try, find the best way to travel to Paris from here, balance my bank accounts, check my email and, oh no, the talk’s over and my brain is a million miles away. I know this is horrible behaviour, but with my mobile phone or laptop at hand, I find it almost impossible to stop!
Why did I have Google at my fingertips the whole time? That brings me to my second reason for not paying attention…
2) I was tweeting!
Completely and utterly distracted by the world of the little blue bird. Having a Twitter presence is now standard for a conference, but how can people fully appreciate talks and tweet so frequently? You can see the #CLIMATEES2015 conversation Storified here. Perhaps if everything was in English I would have done a better job of taking things in and converting them into 140 pithy characters, but probably not much better.
Hopefully this will not be the only scientific meeting I attend while in Europe, and so I need to improve my conference manners before then! Any suggestions on how to tweet and learn, or beat inspir-straction? Surely I’m not the only one…