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Scientific Conferences - What do people actually do there?

One of the best things about being a scientist is that you get paid to travel. While conferences may not be a vacation and can be quite exhausting - for instance, my flight had over six hours of delay - they are also a recurring highlight in our professional lives. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to explore new countries and cities without using up your vacation days. On the other hand, you get to meet many interesting people and gain new inspiration for your own work. Especially at the beginning of one's career, it's crucial to build a network. You simply can't know everything, so it's very helpful to connect with other experts, some of whom you might even start a collaboration with for a project.

When I traveled to the 'Forest Genetics 2023' conference in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, a small dream of mine came true. Many of the conference attendees were familiar to me from their scientific publications - at least by name. Finally getting to meet the people behind the work was a bit of a fangirl moment for me. Despite my admiration, I gathered the courage to approach most of them, and I had consistently positive experiences.

The forest genetics community is relatively small, but perhaps because of this, it is a very friendly and appreciative group of people where one feels welcomed. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy participating in forest genetics conferences so much. It's a wonderful feeling to be in the company of people from around the world who share a common goal. That goal is to contribute to healthy and sustainable forests that provide the ecosystem services we humans depend on so urgently.

Regardless of nationality, culture, or age, we all share a passion for science and trees - and of course, genetics. I have the feeling that, especially in the evenings after the conference program, with a glass of wine in hand, networking happens effortlessly. This is especially true during the conference dinner, which this time took place at a vineyard with exceptional views.

In addition, you also have the opportunity to present your own work. On one hand, it can be a bit intimidating to present your own research in a room full of experts, many of whom have more experience than you do. On the other hand, it's a fantastic opportunity to draw attention to yourself and your work. Especially after the presentation, you often get approached, and interesting conversations unfold. Moreover, your next potential employer could be sitting in the room.

Usually, there is also at least one conference excursion, as was the case in Vernon this time. We visited seed plantations and companies involved in the distribution of seeds and seedlings to provide planting material for future forests. On a second excursion, we ventured into the forest, where we, for instance, observed an assisted migration experiment (for more information see the assisted migration post).

The conference in Vernon was a fantastic experience, and I'm already looking forward to the next one. :)

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