Expanding Horizons I

This past week, the 6th NAOC (North American Ornithological Conference) was held in Washington DC from August 16-20th with options for workshops the two days prior to the conference and birding excursions for two days following.

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Washington Hilton, home of NAOC IV. Photo credit @NAOCbirds.

What is the purpose of a scientific conference?

Scientific conferences are typically held annually to share latest results, see what’s current, connect with other people in your field, learn about new techniques, etc! It’s a concentrated dose of learning and networking you can’t get from passively following science as it’s published, particularly as work presented at conferences is generally pre-publication. For the purpose of presenters it’s a chance to get feedback on projects which are on-going or preparing for publication.  For student scientists and early career researchers, it’s a chance to possibly find your next position.

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Ornithologists practice skill transference from field to conference. Photo credit @ABonisoli.

Who is NAOC?

NAOC is comprised of American Ornithologists’ Union, Association of Field Ornithologists, BirdsCaribbean, CIPAMEX, Cooper Ornithological Society, Society of Canadian Ornithologists, Sociedad de Ornitología Neotropical, Wilson Ornithological Society, and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

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Organizations collaborating to bring together NAOC IV. Image from  http://naoc2016.cvent.com.

Who attends science conferences such as NAOC?

NAOC is intended for, and attended by, practitioners of ornithology (professors and students of all levels [PhD/Masters/Undergraduates] with interest and (often) research experience in ornithology), government scientists, as well as ornithology journals, companies with science gear related to ornithology, bird organizations (ex: North American Banding Council and Audubon), science communicators, and even people who identify as ecologists who work with birds.

What does NAOC cover?

NAOC covered all ornithological issues under the sun and then  some! (The first plenary speaker was @Astro_Jessica, a US astronaut, Harvard professor, and researcher of bird physiology in extreme environments)

Themes covered at NAOC included: physiology, conservation, genetics, taxonomy & systematics,  habitat relationships, big data, feeding & foraging ecology, breeding behavior, birders & citizen science, and special symposiums.

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A fantastic talk from NAOC, or  at least I assume so from the amount of positive Twitter coverage it received. Photo credit  @sonoranjv.

What was so special  about NAOC?

With 2000+ participants, NAOC IV was the largest ornithological conference ever to be held. While most participants were from the US or Canada, at least 44 countries were represented across the globe.

How does a conference go?

Before the conference, participants had the opportunity to sign up for half to full day workshops designed to further skill development (lots of workshops on R as well as Program MARK, eBird, and audio recording) or dive deeply into topics such as   the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (signed 100 years ago), bird molts, policy, and teaching.

A day at a conference, typically consists of a plenary speaker and several sessions of talks lasting ~15 minutes. NAOC’s four plenary speakers were Jessica Meir (mentioned earlier), John Wingfeld, Lourdes Mugica Valdes, and Mike Webster.  NAOC had ~14 concurrent sessions and symposia. The symposia are more thematic with topics such as “Birds as City Slickers” and “Shorebirds in a Changing World”.

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Like birds, ornithologists are early  risers. Plenary attendance at NAOC IV . Photo credit @NAOCbirds.

Evenings at a conference, are often reserved for poster sessions,  social activities, and networking events.

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Poster session from NAOC IV. Photo credit @NAOCbirds.

What did I (Kathleen Farley, @woodcockwatchNJ)  hope to achieve? 

My goal in going was two fold. First, as the only bird student in my federated department, I was hoping to expand my network. I have awesome ecology people, but sometimes you just nee a bird’s eye view on a problem. Second,  I was hoping to learn more about methodologies I’m aiming to use in my woodcock work. For instance, I think the analysis of woodcock encounters will best be accomplished by Program MARK. I also wanted to learn  more about modeling, poop science, big  data, and so many things that I’ll do a follow up post just on those topics!

Feel free to ask  further questions about NAOC or conference going in general  via comments, facebook, google+, linkedin or twitter. 

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