Sunday, April 13, 2014

Annual Southwestern Association of Parasitologists Meeting-2014

I stare out of the back window as the vehicle pulls away from the parking lot in front of the field station where we have learned and experienced so much in such a short amount of time. Even after four years of coming to this meeting, I still leave feeling amazed by the whole experience as we leave. I was really stressed out coming down to this meeting this year because it takes place in April, one of the busiest months of the academic year. This April has been particularly hell-ish for me because I’m taking several classes, preparing for what will be a very active summer, working on papers, waiting to hear back about submissions to two different journals, thinking about grant writing, and preparing for this meeting. I bit off a big chunk (as I tend to do sometimes) by taking on the challenge of presenting three talks for this conference. Luckily it proved to not be more than I could chew after all. All of my presentations went well, I feel like I answered questions well, and I even had a few people catch me later on ask more about some of the work that I’ve done in the last year! It made me kind of feel like a rockstar for a few minutes, which was awesome! But enough about me…let’s talk about the conference!

We arrived Thursday night and were greeted by smiling, familiar faces. After unloading our things, checking in, and getting to our rooms, we were able to catch up with many of our colleagues. It is still amazing to be able to talk to giants in the field of parasitology about everything from specific nuances of vastly understudied groups of parasites to big-picture issues like the impacts of climate change on parasite biodiversity. Equally amazing is discussing these same sorts of topics with other budding parasitologists. 

The next day was packed to the gills with parasite talks. Literally. We had a LOT of people presenting their work on the parasites of fish this year. Big fish. Little fish. Freshwater. Marine. Everything from life cycle work, to heavy metal bioaccumulation was covered this year. I think we could definitely call this the “Year of the Fish” if we so wanted. There were also several talks on birds: ducks, quail, and turkeys for the most part. There were a handful of talks on anurans (frogs, specifically) and several small mammal parasite surveys. There were even a few talks on pathogenic amoebae that are starting to be studied in Oklahoma. Then of course there were many talks on parasites that utilize invertebrate hosts, such as gregarines and nematamorphs. (There was also a pretty nice talk on turtle coccidia and a couple of interesting archaeoparasitology talks if I do say so myself. :p)

After the talks and eating dinner, the society held their business meeting where we discussed several important issues that are emerging in our field. Student awards were given out for the presentations and for research proposals submitted prior to the conference. I was fortunate enough to receive a student research grant this year, which will help to fund some of my dissertation research! The meeting concluded with everyone’s favorite part…the resolutions committee’s hilarious recap of the meeting’s events. The people who get together to write the resolution every year have great senses of humor and I think I’m certainly not alone in saying that this is the best way to end a business meeting!

Next we had yummy cheeses on fancy crackers whilst we sipped wine and made our rounds to check out all of the posters for the year. Like the talks, there was a lot of diversity in topics, with several of the posters pertaining to fish. We drank, chatted, and reminisced the night away before collapsing in our beds to grasp a few remaining hours of sleep prior to the next day's talks that were scheduled to begin at 8am the following morning.

Arising with tired, but eager eyes, I had a quick breakfast supplemented by a big cup of coffee that I carried to the library for the last few talks. These non-competitive presentations were exciting and interesting just as those the day before had been. We sang Johnny Cash ditties at the request of a marine fish parasitologist talking about a group of parasites that have “been everywhere…man”, including in the “ring of fire”. We also heard about ticks, cryptic parasite species in eels, an elusive life cycle of a freshwater fish parasite, a great new repository for parasites, and about how “sexy” bobcat parasites can be…but only if you properly deposit your specimens in a museum collection.

Unfortunately, we had a long drive ahead of us, so we had to load up quickly and take off. I didn’t get a chance for proper goodbyes with most of the wonderful people that I’ve met over the years or for the first time this year. I suppose we have Facebook though, so that makes our goodbyes seem unneeded as we will hopefully interact before the next meeting via social media. Such a great time, but soon it will be back to the end of the semester grind. I think this meeting may have been what I needed to pick up some motivation to get through the next few weeks so that we can stick a fork in this spring semester and call it done. So long, SWAP! (And thanks for all the fish!)