In The Field

Before the rain at SDB 2008

Just before a violent downpour at Philadelphia’s UPenn campus, I got to chat with Society for Developmental Biology president Eric Wieschaus of Princeton University. (An aside: His quirky sense of humour set a nice tone at the opening symposium last night. When the powerpoint presentation he was working off of broke down, he admitted “My lab doesn’t let me get too close to machines.” Later clarifying: “I’m allowed near the microscopes, just not the ones with moving parts.”). He told me he didn’t quite have the clarity of thought to offer me any overarching trends in development in general or at the meeting in particular. Indeed having been to a symposium this morning that dealt with a different organism for nearly each speaker (Amphioxus, Arabidopsis, Ascidian, Bat, Cardamine, Lamprey, Mouse, Nematode and Zebrafish, oh my!), it can be hard to pick out trends. Wieschaus was nonetheless chuffed about the quality of the talks, and the locale. Passing on the usual route of using a conference centre meant a smaller meeting for SDB. Costs for attendees may be a bit lower (student housing is available, but I’ve heard some groans about the amenities), but Weischaus says the costs for the Society end up being about the same. Ultimately it was the connection with the University of Pennsylvania community that the organizers wanted to achieve. And I’ll admit the site has quite a bit more character and charm than the sterile Pennsylvania Convention Center. Still it’s strange to have posters split between three different tiny meeting rooms on two different floors. As far as attendance, Weischaus said the site was comparable to Cancun, where the conference was held last year. As I looked to the darkening sky and reminded Weischaus that we were nearly 100 miles from the beach, he pulled back. “Well it’s less than we could fit at San Francisco.” About 750 to 800 are in attendance. I hope the rest managed to stay dryer than I did.

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