MicroSeminar: A new way of doing conferences

Originally posted at http://blog.mothur.org/2014/10/14/MicroSeminar/ on 10/14/14 by Pat Schloss

Why didn’t I think of that?! In the last few years I’ve pretty much lost all my drive to go to conferences to give talks. So when I saw a Twitter post from Jennifer Biddle (UDel) this summer announcing the creation of the MicroSeminar, I got excited. After seeing the seminar series roll out over the summer I noticed they have had a very “environmental” focus to the initial talks. I offered my services to give a microbiome-based microbial ecology talk and viola! My talk will be this Friday (10/17/2014) at 11 AM eastern. You can watch it through their Google+ site and later through their YouTube channel.

MicroSeminar is an online seminar series created by Jennifer and Cameron Thrash (LSU) who are both awesome Assistant Professors that also do an effective job utilizing social media to engage colleagues. The goal of the seminar series is to provide a monthly microbiology seminar given by a different research group. I think this is great for a couple reasons. First, many people are in Biology departments with very little microbiology or are in microbiology departments where there’s very little microbial ecology. So it’s great to have a venue to have an hour a month to learn about the latest and greatest in microbial ecology/environmental microbiology research. Second, I really hate going to conferences. They’re a time sink, horrible for life/work balance, and very expensive. The cost of going to ISME in Korea this summer? In the thousands. Cost of sitting with your laptop watching a seminar? Zilch. Jennifer is correct that this won’t kill conferences. Conferences have a huge social aspect and provide great opportunities for networking. But the science is frequently stale and pulled from the pages of last year’s AEM. I think there’s great potential with this model to change how we disseminate information to our colleagues. Like I said, I think this is big, deserving of your attention and perhaps others will create parallel online seminar series that are either more specialized or more general.

When Jennifer took me up on my offer to provide a talk, I was very excited for the opportunity to give a microbiome talk without the microbiome crap. You will not see HMP Girl, no quotes of specious statistics, no mention of obscure disease, and no venturing into the weeds of bioinformatics. I will be describing unpublished experiments from the lab where we have taken various sources of microorganisms and used them to colonize mice that lack their own microbiota. The question is, how do microbial communities assemble? Is it random? Is it deterministic? These are big questions in ecology that are difficult to answer in microbial systems because the little buggers are everywhere and it’s hard to start with a clean slate. But at the same time, they’re a great system because they grow so freaking fast. I look forward to sharing our results and getting people’s feedback on what we’ve been up to.

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