At the beginning of the year I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to present both a talk and a poster at the 9th World Congress of Herpetology in Dunedin, New Zealand. The World Congress of Herpetology is a regular meeting of the world’s top herpetologists that is organised every 3 to 4 years. The mission of the Congress is to promote herpetological research, education and conservation. It achieves this by facilitating communication between individuals, societies and other organisations engaged in the study of amphibians and reptiles. This time around the location for the Congress was the University of Otago, which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit.
I love a good conference (this is for a number of reasons) with the World Congress of Herpetology being the best I’ve been to so far! The first reason I enjoy conferences so much is all to do with meeting new people and networking, it’s great to hear what everyone is up to and to make some research friends that may one day become future co-authors. The second is the ability to catch up with old friends, the ones you only ever see at conferences. If you’re a scientist or a researcher in any field for that matter, you’ll know the ones I mean! The final reason is to learn about new techniques or methods you could apply to your own science/research projects.
The talk I was asked to present was on how to use social media to help promote reptile and amphibian conservation. Now this is a task that seems to come quite naturally to a millennial that has grown up at the right time to exploit this wonder in technology, but not everyone is as lucky. This was part of the ‘Novel Approaches to Science Communication & Conservation Engagement in Herpetology’ symposium, along with talks by people such as CiCi Blumstein (aka Agent Amphibian) and Johnathan Kolby. The symposium had a number of positive reviews which is important as we live in a world where there is a growing importance for scientists to communicate and interact with the general public. We’re not all lab-coat wearing boffins, we need to break the stereotype and shout from the rooftops about our research and why it matters. Hopefully some of the attendees of the symposium are now finding ways to reach a new audience be it through art, social media or film.
The conference was the largest I’ve ever been to, with 874 delegates from 57 countries. Despite this there was plenty of time for socialising and to catch up over lunch. For such a large conference, held across 5 days – there were plenty of plenary talks. These were held each morning and afternoon, sandwiching the rest of the conference in between. These covered a wide range of topics but my favourite plenary was by the ever passionate Jodi Rowley, who works at the Australian Museum on my favourite group of animals – frogs! Jodi was giving a talk on her work recording amphibians throughout Australia with the use of citizen science and an app (FrogID), that lets users go out and record frogs. At the moment the system is not automated so someone has to verify each call by ear but there is hope that artificial intelligence may be used in the future. Watch this space!
Aside from the 30 talks an hour (there were eight concurrent sessions don’t worry), the thing that made the conference was being able to meet herpetologists from all corners of the globe. The Congress was a great chance to network and to meet those that I’d only previously known through the digital world. An ideal time for this was during the poster sessions, where I presented a poster, titled ‘Enter the Natrix’. Unfortunately, I didn’t win any prizes for best pun, but it did have a number of people interested. Despite the ongoing challenges we all face regarding funding, permissions, ethics (and now the ever present and looming COVID-19) and other such setbacks, everyone was extremely upbeat and optimistic. This positive attitude was carried through the entire event and really helped to keep everyone engaged and focussed.
One of the many symposia focussed on the life and work of Professor Richard ‘Rick’ Shine from Macquarie University. This included talks from members of his family and former PhD students that have since raised through the ranks to start their own labs within various academic institutions. Despite such a long list of awards and accolades to his name, Rick is a very modest man and was clearly humbled by the tributes. That evening there was a more informal social gathering with the Shine Lab and the various offshoots, with the aim to network and to trace back your academic family tree. With a global reach of research, Rick has inspired many to get out there and study reptiles and amphibians, particularly within Australia.
I’d just like to thank the University of Otago for its amazing hospitality, the organisers for all their hard work and all of the delegates that made the conference so memorable. Hopefully I’ll see a number of you in Kuching in 2024!
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