Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Society for Experimental Biology meeting, Prague, Czech Republic

That's Prague Castle in the distant left

I have just returned from Prague, where I presented my research on modulation of integration in bluegill sunfish. I have been told that SEB is "the European SICB", and I wanted to go to this meeting because there are lots of researchers in Europe that never make it to the meetings in the US, so I wanted to learn more about what's going on over there.

The first thing I noticed about Europe was from the air - there are lots of farms, but none of them are squares/circles like in the US.  It was interesting arriving in Prague, where the Czech language was so different from most of the ones I am familiar with.  However, some words were still recognizable, like "toalety", which, based on it's location, I assumed meant "toilet".  There were also other things that seemed strange to me, like how the bed covers didn't span the entire bed, and how the shower only had a partial glass door so water got all over the floor. However, some things were still quite familiar, like the american pop music playing in the driver's car on the way to the hotel from the airport. In terms of food, the one thing I noticed was that Czech food = meat, potatoes, and cabbage.  There is little in the way of vegetables, especially the leafy kind. I found myself craving a salad when I got home.

Flight over Czech Republic, nothing is square
Flight over Colorado a week earlier,
everything is square/circle
Yes, that comforter is the only bed covering,
and it's too small
Shower with only a small,
partial glass door

The conference lasted 4 days, and included events like the "Women in Science Dinner" and several keynote lectures.  There was a large Biomechanics presence, and each day had a fair number of talks. I was really proud of my former labmate and current friend Kathleen, who gave a stellar talk on modulation of muscle mechanics in anoles! I also gave my talk, which received some interest on Twitter, mostly because people liked my cool high-speed videos. There were also some interesting talks in other sessions about things I didn't know I would like, including icefish genetics as it relates to anti-freeze proteins.

Kathleen Foster, presenting at SEB

A tweet about my talk

Another great thing about the SEB meeting is that I met so many people from so many different countries, including Australia, France, England, Scotland, Portugal, Lebanon, Canada (including Quebec, which is still Canada), South Africa, Germany, and Poland.  I was joking that I was going to leave Prague with an accent, but I wasn't sure which one. It was really interesting hearing everyone else's perspective on challenges that women (and others!) face in academia, as well as other aspects of academia.

Great group of scientists chatting over dinner

The conference kept me extremely busy, and it wasn't until the third night that I actually made it out of the hotel.  Since breakfast was served at the hotel, and the conference served lunch and several dinners, there was no reason to leave.  It was nice to finally get out and explore the city a bit with Ola, Kathleen, and some students from Cambridge and the RVC. We grabbed some dinner at a place that served local cuisine and then wandered down to the Charles Bridge (after acquiring some ice cream, of course!).

The Prague metro
Imagine that, meat and potatoes

Having some ciders,
that's right, out of a straw

The Atomic Clock

On Friday, Ola, Kathleen, and I decided to skip the morning talks to have some catching up time for the three of us, since we hadn't seen each other in almost a year. We headed back downtown and spent several hours walking around the main part of the city.  I couldn't believe what amazing architecture there was!  It felt like I was in a movie, but I knew this was actually what it looked like here, cobblestone streets and all.  This was also my first chance to try the Trdelnik, a traditional cinnamon/sugar (+ other tasty bits like chocolate upon request!) pastry that is wrapped around and cooked on a wooden spit. I was not disappointed!

The "Tim Burton" castle, as it was dubbed

Gateway to the Charles Bridge,
over the Vltava River

View of the Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge

View of Prague

Cathedral at the Prague Castle

The conference ended on Friday, and the conclusion was dinner at a local restaurant.  A map was provided, but it took 30 minutes and running into a friend I met previously (who was also lost) to finally find it.  It was in the basement of one of the municipal buildings, and there were almost 0 signs for it. The streets are also terrible to navigate, as they seem to belong in Willy Wonka's factory - just when you think you know which direction you're headed, you end up somewhere else.

Conference dinner

It was fortuitous running into Suzanne at the dinner, because we soon learned that both of us had late flights the next day, and coordinated a trip on Saturday to see more of Prague than either of us had time for earlier. I was really glad she let me tag along because she knew of some places to see that I wasn't aware of, including the old castle where some famous composers are buried, and Emauzy which is a 16th century church with original paintings on the walls.  We also stopped at a riverside farmers market and got some strawberries to munch on as well as another local restaurant, this one cafeteria-style.

Cathedral at the Old Castle

Farmer's market


Original painting

One of the hallways in Emauzy

More meat and potatoes

I am so thankful for my NSF funding which allowed me to finally attend this meeting.  I had a great time meeting new people, learning about new science, and exploring a new part of Europe I had never been to.  However, jet lag has not treated me well and now I will spend a few days recovering...