That Conference Feeling10th April 2017
Today I would like to share my experience from the 2017 Canadian Winter Nuclear and Particle Physics Conference (CWNPPC) that was recently held in Banff, Alberta.
That Conference Feeling
First, I’d like to explain something -- there is a kind of emotional roller coaster that accompanies conference life, something that has somehow turned into a routine for me. It often begins with a conference announcement that you notice on a poster, or in a department-wide email. Maybe you hear about a conference because a colleague or your boss suggests that you go, or maybe you are lucky enough to be invited directly. However you find out about the conference, the beginning is always the same: you are full of enthusiasm and thinking, "Yeah, let's DO this! What a great venue and an awesome opportunity to present my research! Furthermore, it’s important for my academic path to participate in conferences and to network with other scientists!"
As the date of the conference marches closer, time starts to move much faster than you had anticipated. Suddenly, it’s time to get your presentation or poster finalized and polished. You start to worry about how you’re ignoring your other projects and responsibilities for the duration of your absence. You have to communicate with your colleagues and students that you will be absent for that important meeting or milestone measurement, as well as brief them on what they are supposed to take care of while you're away. On top of all this, you feel the stress of the mechanics of travel: packing, commuting to airports here and there, the weather. You leave your spouse or family behind for days or weeks, sacrificing those small but essential moments of private time that you usually share. Instead, you’re on your own in some random hotel room where you have to pay extra for Wi-Fi.
The Down, and then the Up
When you’re all alone in your hotel room, it’s easy for all the enthusiasm you felt when you first saw the conference announcement to turn into resentment. You begin to question how you ever even considered registering. All you can think about are the projects you left behind, the students who rely on you, and your loving family or spouse.
Soon after, tired and stressed out, you arrive at the conference reception party… only to bump into an old friend you haven't seen in a long time, that one who can somehow immediately brighten your mood. Or, you suddenly find yourself immersed in a vivid conversation with a researcher whose papers have always intrigued you and whom you’ve been longing to speak to in detail. Things begin to look up.
My arrival to the WNPPC 2017 followed this exact same rollercoaster trajectory -- the initial stages of motivation, transformed into struggle and then back into pleasant anticipation of the conference days ahead of me.
The WNPPC is mainly aimed at graduate students, young academics, and new faculty members within the Canadian particle and nuclear physics community. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other in an intimate setting! I was particularly amazed by the enthusiasm of the many grad students, and the calibre of the presentations they produced. This energy and excitement were apparent in the jam-packed sessions witnessed throughout the length of the conference, and also in the scant few laptops open on laps during presentations.
Being a huge fan of snow, I can't neglect to mention that it was also a big perk to participate in my first ever winter conference. Though the days were admittedly long (with evening sessions lasting until 10pm!), it was a welcome opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains on our afternoon breaks. Together with my colleague Thomas Brunner from McGill University in Montreal (a neutrino physicist), we visited the continental divide right between Banff National Park and Kootenay National Park (which also happens to be the border between Alberta and British Columbia).
Reflecting at the end of the conference, I realized that despite my initial worries, I would be leaving the WNPPC with some great new contacts. Better yet, I can now look forward to seeing these wonderful people at the next conference, at the next venue! And, having lived in Canada for only a few months, I appreciated getting to see even one small part of the beautiful Rocky Mountains.
Despite the ups and downs, my WNPPC experience convinced me that we should never pass up the chance to register for conferences in our field -- even if the Wi-Fi is extra.