By Shaheen Syed,

“Wait, what, Florida?”. Indeed, the ICES Annual Science Conference (ASC) 2017 was happening in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. As a Ph.D. candidate in computer science, and being part of SAF21, a Horizon2020 funded fisheries project, I needed to go to the biggest fisheries conference according to my Ph.D. colleagues. What to expect? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

Harvey, Irma, Jose, no, these are not the names of my colleagues. They are the names of the hurricanes sweeping over the Caribbean and Florida. We are not sure the ASC will happen, let’s wait for ICES to update us. Captivated by all the news and social media, finally, we have a “go” from ICES. The ASC 17 is happening!

Flying to Fort Lauderdale from a little place up in Northern Norway called Tromso took a total of 20 hours. We arrived at our hotel, way too early, too bad, check-in opens around 15:00. Let’s wait in the lobby and work on my presentation. I was traveling with my colleague Charlotte Weber and we both had an accepted abstract for presentation. “Let’s work on our presentation, and ask for an update if the room is ready every now and then”. “Not ready”, “Not ready”. They must have felt sorry for me, they upgraded me to an available room, perhaps to get rid of me. Anyway, I wasn’t complaining.

The next day was the first day of the conference. I must have stayed at the hotel where everyone visiting the conference was staying, large groups of people left the hotel to cross the street to the convention center where the conference was happening. Just a 7 min walk, but quite harsh with high temperatures and humidity. Remember, I came from Tromso in the Arctic circle.

Me presenting.

Charlotte interned at ICES for a couple of months and knew almost all the ICES staff members, a nice way for me to be introduced to the wonderful people behind ICES and the ICES community (Terhi, Dorothy, Mark, Simon). I also remember some of the faces from the night before, and during breakfast in the morning. Indeed, everyone was staying at the same hotel.

Still being a bit nervous, what to expect, so many people. I must have read articles from the people being here today. “Can I walk up to them and talk to them?” Well, Shaheen, try to enjoy and see what happens, I thought. Ahh, I see my colleague Rannva Danielsen, and Michaela Aschan who is the scientific advisor of my project (SAF21). Nice, I know someone, I’m not alone, you can do this!

The “beer” game. Me, Michaela, Rannva, Charlotte and Petter

I have tried to take in as much as possible, the open sessions, the science communication workshop, the theme sessions, the plenary lectures. “I’m going to learn so many new things”. Partly yes, although I couldn’t really follow most of the presentations. Was it because I’m a computer scientist? Having read fisheries papers, being part of a fisheries project, I admittedly have some basic knowledge on various aspects of fisheries. Perhaps the presentations could be more understandable for an “outsider” like me. Perhaps having six graphs on one slide and explaining the formulas was a bit too much for me.

My presentation was on the second day. Together with my colleague Melania Borit (SAF21 project coordinator), I’ve researched machine learning methods in fisheries, and specifically, applying topic models to uncover hidden topics in fisheries publications. There are so many graphs that we made, so many formulas to show, so much of the hard work that we want to present. “Everyone had formulas or complicated graphs in their presentation, maybe I should add them to my presentation too”, I said to Charlotte. “Well, could you follow them?”, she replied. “Actually, no”. “Make it so everyone can follow and enjoy your talk”. Good advice. She was right 🙂

I’ve gotten compliments for presenting a complicated subject like machine learning and topic models in an easy to understand manner. The presentation went fine. The audience was great. I’ve gotten nice feedback. During the remaining days of the conference, people walked up to me to talk about my work, or to give me a small compliment on my presentation. The presentation really was a nice way of letting others know what you’ve been working on. I felt part of the community already.

In a way, I think the ICES ASC is all about the people. Putting the faces to the names. Networking. At the end of the day, we’re all people. Yes, you can walk up to some of the seniors and talk about their or your research. I’ve noticed they appreciate that. Everyone was so friendly. I realized I’ve been nervous for no reason. Feeling welcomed is what the conference taught me, even for an “outsider” like me. Thanks everyone for such a great time. And the beer game was awesome.

The content of this blog does not reflect the official opinion of the SAF21 project or of European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this blog lies entirely with the author(s).