So I'm almost done with the meeting I'm currently attending. This is a huge meeting - 16,000 attendees - and the organization of the conference has been superb. Anything you'd want or need or wish for was available- on site child care, on site fedex, efficient and warm customer service and what not. I hope I can keep coming to this meeting even after I R2I- this will remain one of the most well organized meetings I have been to. I am in total awe of the organizers and almost wished I worked behind the scenes of such a fantastic event. :D
I have a nice hotel room in a very functional hotel. I steered clear of the fancy hotels because I didn't want to waste money on a room I'd only be coming to sleep in. I am happy that I only went ~$200 over the travel grant I got. This room doesn't even have cable-tv unless you pay ~$15 - $20 for an episode of something you want to watch! It has wired internet though, and that's good enough for me. I have a nice view from the window, am close enough to the conference and well-connected and overall happy with this room. My hotel-room craving has finally been fulfilled.
Last year my entire lab attending this meeting. This year I am alone. It totally sucks being alone. I think back to my grad school days and I don't think I went alone to too many meetings, it was always with my lab group or P.I. When I went alone from the lab, I had made a good enough network at the meeting beforehand (part of some committtee/volunteer group etc.) and always had company. Otherwise, it was a small meeting and people mingled easily even if you didn't know them before. I ended up striking close friendships with some people I met at those meetings.
At a big meeting like this, its very different. Everyday, between sessions, I have been enviously looking at groups of people who exchange notes, plan their meals/sight-seeing together etc. I don't have anyone to do that stuff with, and it has been bothering me. I tried my bit but its hard to break into well-established groups. At most people humor you for a few mins following introductions and then go their ways. Today was the heights of desperation and I even pulled the "Lagta hain aapko kahin pehle dekha hai" line on this desi girl in the hope of striking some kind of acquaintance with her so that I could get some company for dinner. But she said no she never saw me anywhere and went back to chatting with her friend. :/ I feel for all the guys that have tried this line and failed. :D On second thoughts, may be I should've tried it on a guy. :)
I tried my hand at the whole networking thing to make some professional connections. It went better than the attempts at trying to wrestle a dinner invitation, :) but I didn't do much of it either. I tried to advertise my poster a bit, talk to a few people, etc. But I made some starts, overcame some inhibitions so I am happy.
And while I didn't get to make any acquaintances to group with here, I found out that a very dear friend of mine from my grad school days was attending another meeting in the same city so I got to catch up with her yesterday. It was by far the best evening I had here, and it was so wonderful to meet her, sit and gossip and exchange notes on the past 6 years and feel like the good old days.
Science-wise it has been great as always- talks and posters of the highest caliber. The entire experience has been intense and inspiring. I have some nice ideas for what I want to work on if I start up a lab in India. :)
I did a lot of people-watching at the meeting. I noticed that all the company types were always busy between sessions, black berrying and clearing out work email and such. The academic types seemed more relaxed, enjoying scientific or non-scientific conversations and not glued to their smart phones. Of course, there were the poor sods working on manuscript revisions and such. :D. So many people were flashing their ipads, using it to keep track of conference schedules, take notes at talks and posters etc. The were better off than those that had to lug the fat ass abstract book around.
I didn't lug that dead tree with me- instead I made use of the online scheduler the meeting had and planned all of my days before hand and took printouts of it with me for each day, so that I only had the relevant info per day and knew where to go next after each session, which posters I wanted to see etc. For a meeting of this size, a few hours of advance planning is essential and I'm glad I did that. Today, I skipped the afternoon to come to my room and nap and that was also a good thing I did.
I am not going to do any touristy stuff here- I have been to this city before and there's nothing in particular I want to see. I will take advantage of the awesome weather though, and go out for a nice long walk and get some desi dinner. :-)