Conference season is upon us, and the national meeting of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) is fast approaching! Here at The Fisheries Blog, we’ve shared posts on the value of professional conferences, as well as a student’s guide to networking at conferences (I recommend reading both prior to your next conference). I’d like to share an example where a fortuitous introduction at an AFS social led to collaboration and eventually (several) publications. Perhaps this example will encourage some of you to step out of your comfort zone (or pond) and make some new connections this year.
The first day of the 2013 AFS meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, had concluded, and most attendees made their way to a few local watering holes. I’d just arrived from Chicago (a postdoc at Shedd Aquarium at the time), and had been invited to present at a symposium on “conservation and management of lesser-known species.” As people mixed and mingled, I ran into fisheries scientists Julie Claussen and David Philipp of the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) and Fisheries Conservation Foundation, both experts known for their work on black basses and bonefish (among several other cool projects). I met them in Chicago the previous year, and I was happy to see them again. We shared a brief conversation before David mentioned they had to run to a meeting, but first he wanted to introduce me to a good friend and colleague of his, Jeffrey Stein (INHS Sport Fish Ecology Lab). He mentioned Jeff had interests in fish ecology and the lesser-known fishes symposium, so we had some things in common.
Jeff and I chatted about our mutual interests, including how non-game fishes were undervalued and understudied; we were also glad that AFS was game for a “non-sport fish” symposium. We exchanged contact info, and planned to keep in touch. I appreciated the introduction from Julie and David, and enjoyed the enthusiastic conversation with a new colleague. The “lesser-known fishes” symposium was a success, and the AFS 2013 meeting was on the [rite in the rain] books.
Flash forward to 2014. Things were heating up as bowfishing was growing more popular, and non-game fish conservation became a more prominent point of discussion; of particular interest to me was bowfishing’s impact on gars and bowfins. These fishes have been historically deemed “trash fish”, when in reality they do serve valuable roles in native ecosystems.
Around the same time, Jeff was planning his next projects, and wanted to include one on non-game fishes, particularly gars and bowfin (collectively called holosteans). He got in touch with me, and I invited Jeff and fellow INHS fisheries scientist Sarah King to meet me in Chicago. What was meant to be, as Jeff put it, “a simple exploration of the possibilities of working together,” turned into “our collective development of a substantial program of research for gars and bowfin” including specific approaches to turn those research needs into on-the-ground projects. The Ancient Sport Fish Project was born! Learn more about the project here; the collaboration on ancient fishes continued to evolve over the following years (check out #AncientSportFish for updates).
As early messages about the 2016 AFS meeting started circulating, the Ancient Sport Fish Team (Jeff, Sarah, me) believed it was time for a symposium dedicated to our under-appreciated holosteans. We knew several other fisheries scientists and ichthyologists were working on holostean-focused research, and the team managed to put together a full-day symposium titled “Angling for Dinosaurs: Status and Future Study of the Ecology, Conservation, and Management of Ancient Fishes”.
The symposium was well attended and a big success; scientists involved were energized to share research, ideas, and develop new collaborations. I was just excited to be in a room full of people with similar appreciation for these toothy ancient fishes!
During the concluding group discussion, we proposed the idea of a special issue based on the symposium for publication (a primary goal in most science scenarios). The group agreed and several scientists were eager to contribute.
With invaluable support from the American Fisheries Society, and unique research projects from scientists across the country, the Angling for Dinosaurs special issue was published last week (July 2018); the culmination of several years of work (and slime, these fish make A LOT of slime), catalyzed by a simple introduction at a social outing during AFS 2013.
Not all social introductions at conferences may end up like this example; perhaps you’ll develop something even bigger, or maybe you’ll just mutually show off pics of your prize piscine catches and follow each other on Twitter. Regardless, it’s generally worth it to be a “social fish” at conferences, you never know what opportunities lie just below the surface.
*Have you garnered valuable collaborations at conferences? Feel free to share your story in the comments. If you’re interested in getting to know more fisheries people in advance of the upcoming national AFS meeting (#AFS148), be sure to follow the American Fisheries Society, AFS Science Communication Section, and The Fisheries Blog on Twitter!