The 13th Ecology and Evolution of Infection Diseases (EEID) conference was held from May 26-29 and hosted by several institutions including University of Georgia, Emory University, and Georgia Tech in the college town of Athens. The EEID 2015 covered themes that highlighted connections between infectious disease ecology and other fields, such as dynamics of neglected tropical diseases, interface between EEID and the social sciences as well as macroecology of infectious diseases. Among the most interesting sessions was the “Ebola Virus Dynamics and Control”, this full day session offered talks on phylodynamic observations in the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreaks and the role of social networks in Ebola virus transmission, among others. This annual meeting has become one of the most exciting events in the field of disease ecology, and since it was my first EEID conference, my expectations were extremely high. Fortunately for me (preconceptions included), the EEID 2015 not only fulfilled my expectations but also gave me a perspective on how a conference can be run differently. Here are some of my preconceptions that I will be telling you about.
Who was told that faculties are the most important component of conferences?
It was a little bit surprising when the organizers commented on their efforts to keep the trainees as the center of this important meeting. They wanted to maintain the familiar environment that big conferences normally lack, thus increasing the chances of learning and real interaction. I don’t know if 350 attendants could be considered as a “familiar environment” but throughout the entire meeting you could realize the efforts towards making this meeting meaningful for trainees. For instance, the lengths of the talks were similar to other meetings with 10 to 15 minutes per talk, but with another 10 to 15 minutes just for discussion. They wanted the students to be in the spotlight so they could have the highest benefit possible from presenting in the meeting. As a trainee, being surrounded by this cluster of fundamental names for the field of disease ecology should have been intimidating, but instead, everyone’s attitude towards you was welcoming and the discussions were under a very constructive atmosphere. I’m sure that at least for 25 minutes, the trainees presenting their research felt like they were the most interesting scientists on earth!
Who was told that small towns aren’t fun?
Having a great conference in a great venue makes you enjoy everything a bit more. Athens is a small town located 2 hours east from Atlanta, home of the first state-chartered university in the US, the University of Georgia, founded in 1785. This college town is known for being one of the most progressive cities in the South, having art and cultural options that would rival with cities many times its size. One of the most surprising characteristics of Athens is the exciting music scene that congregates dozens of bands in different venues around downtown each week. It is not surprising that world famous bands like R.E.M and The B-52s have started their prominent careers in this energetic atmosphere. Along with this rich cultural environment, Athens is also characterized by vibrant downtown with what Athenians proudly describe as the highest density of bars in the US. Athens has more than 80 bars and several award-winning restaurants all in a single square mile. As you can imagine, organizers encouraged the participants to take advantage of this unique scenario and of course we were more than willing to do so!
Who was told that if you want quality products you would need to pay a high price?
The registration fee is my last (but not the least) proof that the organizers were truly making the EEID 2015 for the trainees. The registration fee included a nice welcome reception, world-class talks along with guaranteed interaction with world-class scientists, the most famous component of conferences…the coffee breaks, drinks during posters sessions, a dinner banquet with live music and tons of fun!, hike at Sandy Creek Park (buses, food and drinks provided) and a closing reception/BBQ….all for US$125…late registration fee.
Summarizing, my first EEID conference can stand as one of my best conference experiences so far, not only because of the high quality of talks and poster sessions, but also as a personal note. This meeting offered the opportunity to see what I think is a different way to conceive a scientific meeting and I expect to have the chance to experience it in the future again. Thank you so much NSERC CREATE HPI for the funding to attend this awesome conference!