Friday, July 3, 2015

Fast Times at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Parasitologists

Greetings fellow parasitophiliacs! First of all, let me begin how I've begun far to many of my most recent posts by apologizing for my lack of writing lately. As a PhD candidate, I could come up with a million excuses...namely that I'm focusing heavily on my dissertation at the moment...but suffice it to say that I've had good intentions without the available time it takes to write something that you *hopefully* will enjoy reading.

I'll try to keep today's post short and sweet without getting too sentimental. Last weekend I attended my first American Society of Parasitologists meeting. I've been a member of this society for several years, but this was the first time I was able to go to one of the annual meetings.

This meeting was held over the course of four days in Omaha, Nebraska. The meeting consisted of a wonderful mix of student and faculty presentations covering a wide range of parasitological topics. There were a few symposia on topics that included undergraduate education and community outreach with regard to parasitology. These symposia featured several excellent talks by prominent members of the society.

For me, the most fun part of the meeting was the ability to catch up with other parasitologists and to have the chance to meet some of the "big names" for the first time. Like any young professional, I always leave wondering if I made the good impression that I hoped to make or if I said something stupid without realizing it. However, everyone that I met was welcoming and kind, so if I did say something stupid, they were nice enough not to make me feel dumb. It's pretty amazing to be a part of a society that is full of so many people who make you feel like you belong even if they've just met you.

The president of the society described our gathering as being similar to a "family reunion". It certainly felt that way to me, even being a relative new-comer with regard to attending the national meetings. I got to see many familiar faces from the Southwestern Association of Parasitologists (SWAP) and Rocky Mountain Conference of Parasitologists (RMCP) meetings that I've been attending since Dr. Duszynski took me to my first SWAP meeting while I was working on my master's. It's always great catching up and seeing what sorts of things people are working on.

I was also fortunate to meet a number of new people, including fellow students and prominent parasitologists conducting research in all kinds of neat areas. I met the now past-president of the society, Dr. David Lindsay, and got to talk to him about Toxoplasma gondii and other fun coccidia that he has spent his career studying. He introduced me to his student, Richard, who is studying Sarcocystis. He also offered me some of his spit to help with my dissertation...I've never been so excited to have received such an offer! (He is seropositive for T. gondii, so I could really use his spit to help with some of my experimental work.)

I briefly met our new president, Dr. Mark Siddall. Dr. Siddall studies leeches and works at the American Museum of Natural History. We didn't talk long, but we did get to talk a bit about outreach for the society. I can't commit to much, but it would be good to give back to the society in some way. I plan to send him an email later to touch base about how I can help. (I'm thinking I'll pitch the idea of getting ASP on Imgur, which would be pretty cool!) He also talked to me a bit about my dissertation and offered to put me in touch with some ancient DNA people if I have time to add that component into my dissertation work. Additionally, I got to meet one of his students briefly. The student was doing this really great work with microCT scanning of leeches. The animations in his presentation were excellent.

I was able to meet with several people who took the time to speak with me about my dissertation work. First, I met Dr. Charles Faulkner. I have read several of Dr. Faulkner's papers, so it was very exciting to meet him in person. We had a couple of opportunities to chat about the molecular work that I will be embarking upon this August and he was kind enough to give me his thoughts on some of the parasite eggs that I've been finding in my samples. What a great guy!

I also met with Dr. Agustin Jimenez. I've known Agustin for several years and I was happy that he had time to chat with me at ASP. He sat with me for a good while giving his thoughts on some of my photos of parasite eggs from my material and he had lots of insights to share since he had published on material from the same site. He even sent me some supplementary material from his work on the site that I've been looking through since I got back to the station for the summer.

I got to talk with lots of other people, but this post is already starting to look a bit long, so I'll cut it short for now. Overall, this was a great meeting! I enjoyed the food, fun, and familiar faces that filled the venue and it was wonderful to meet so many fellow parasitophiliacs in one place. I look forward to next year's meeting and to doing a little bit of service for such an open and supportive society run by awesome people. :)

The Moral of the Story
If you love what you do, you should seek out societies of like-minded people. Attending these meetings is a great way to enhance your knowledge base of the discipline and to expand your network of colleagues (and friends if you are lucky). These gatherings open the door for collaborative efforts and can be hugely beneficial for troubleshooting your own research. Plus, a hotel full of parasitologists is a pretty fun place to be! Where else can you talk about parasites while eating and not have one person make a comment about how it's not appropriate dinner conversation? (The struggle is real!)

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