Back in July, I attended the 2012 Botany Conference, which was held in Columbus, OH, USA, and later this month, I will attend the “Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology” meeting of the German Botanical Society (DBG) in Mainz, Germany. Why so much international travel, you may ask, and why is it important to Te Papa and its researchers? I’ll start by answering the second part of this question first.
First, attending meetings is a great way to get the word out to our colleagues around the world about the research we are doing. By that I mean the specific research that individual Te Papa reseachers like myself are actively pursuing, as well as the more general contribution Te Papa as an institution is making regarding scholarly research. Most conference attendees (myself included!) will present their latest results in the form of a poster or a 15- or 20-minute presentation. This year my talks focus on our latest research on New Zealand forget-me-nots, a group of plants which we have been blogging about for the last year and a half. A summary of the work I am presenting at these meetings is available here.
Second, hearing about the latest technologies, methods and results from colleagues is both invigorating and exciting! And, I must add, at times slightly overwhelming. Over 1000 botanists–ranging from students to experts–attended the Botany 2012 meeting, and there were hundreds of talks and dozens of workshops to choose from. I always come back from conferences with lots of new ideas that I can apply directly to my research on native New Zealand plants. I highlight some of the interesting things I learned at this year’s meetings here.
Third, attending international meetings is all about (face-to-face) networking. Of course we live in an age where productive collaboration and networking can (and does) happen with e-mail, the Internet and Skype. But none of these can 100% fully replace actual face-to-face interactions with real people. Attending international conferences, one might discuss and plan current research with overseas collaborators, be introduced to new colleagues that may one day become future collaborators, and participate in spontaneous and sometimes heated discussions in a room full of colleagues.
And now on to the other part of my original question, Why so much international travel? As a Research Scientist at Te Papa, I may not always have the opportunity to attend an international meeting each year, let alone two of them! This year is a bit special because I was honoured to receive an Fellowship for Experienced Researchers from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. So, for the next 18 months I’ll be based at the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg in Germany working on a collaborative research project on New Zealand hebes and their European relatives (Veronica) in collaboration with Prof Dr Dirk Albach.
This is a great example of how collaborating and networking at previous international conferences has played an important role in shaping the direction of my research. I hope to blog about some of my experiences here as the fellowship unfolds.