Sunday, July 4, 2010
The End of Evolution ...
... well, the end of Evolution 2010 anyway. The silence that you may very well have failed to notice around here over the last couple of weeks has come about because I've been away attending my very first Proper International Conference in Portland. I haven't been as deligant a communcator of science as the guys behin Denim and Tweed or Evolution Development and Genomics who blogged, tweeted and even podcasted the meeting but I thought I'd share a few of my experiences
On the face of it flying half way around the world to talk for twelve minutes about what you've been doing for the last three years is surely insane, but I found the whole experience incredibly useful. Being based in New Zealand I've spoken to some of the very best evolutionary biologists in the world, but we are small country and I've never been exposed to such a great diversity of topics, or to such great depth of expertise within the topics that I'm most interested in as I have over the last week. It turns out even the rock star scientists whose name you know as the last one on author lists on Nature papers are just people, and nice ones at that (although my first attempt to introduce myself to Jerry Coyne failed because he was mobbed by fans who wanted autographs and photos) and that some of the most interesting and well executed studies come from people you've never heard off.
So, flying back to New Zealand with a head full of ideas and a little bit more knowledge about the wider world of evolutionary biology has made the trip well worth it. But it get's better than that. I can't find any seemly way of bringing this up so I'm just going to blurt it out: I won a freaking award! The Ernst Mayr award goes to the best student presentation at the meeting by a member of the Society of Systematic Biologists (one of the three societies that host the meetings) and this year I shared it with Jeremy Brown from Berkley* . The award will find a nice place on my CV and my wall, but it's particularly neat for me to have won something that bears Ernst Mayr's name. Mayr was one of the most important contributors to the consilience of ideas that formed the theoretical basis to modern evolutionary biology, the modern synthesis. Unlike most of the other names we associate with the modern synthesis Mayr was not a mathematician but a naturalist, and he was particularly interested in the nature of species and the process by which they arose. As it happens, I disagree with quite a lot of what Mayr had to say and my talk was about a subject he is famously not a fan of (as you read his work it becomes clear he disagreed with himself quite a lot, so I guess this is OK), but the innovative way Mayr thought and the clarity and force with he expressed his ideas helped but speciation at the heart of evolutionary biology and his contribution to our field of study was immense. So, yeah, I'm quite stoked!
You can expect some more detailed about talks and ideas that I really like over the next couple of weeks, but for now I better go check in to my next flight.(PDX->LAX->SYD->CHC->DUD might actually be insane...)
*To underline what I said about the strength of evolutionary biology in New Zealand, two other kiwis made the finalists, Gillian Gibb and Simon Hills from Massey