Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Benefits of Attending Events

I'm writing this on the back of my bryophtye course post because I found I wanted to expand upon why courses are so important to me, indeed, why they should be part of all of our lives.

It's not just educational courses though, it's all events that brings a group of people together that have shared interests. Conferences, meetings, volunteer activities, working holidays, all of these are important examples of these happenings which can help build relationships and share knowledge and experiences.

I have attended a few courses and conferences, and am heading north to attend my first working holiday later this week. And I have reason to believe that I am getting better at attending them, I am discovering how they should be done, as well as why.


Well, simply because there is no single better way to increase your network than to attend an event which other strangers are also attending. If you go to a mammal-based conference, all the people attending, by and large, will be mammal enthusiasts. If freshwater habitats are your thing, then attend the local, regional or national freshwater event. Trust me when I say that there will be one!

And networking is very important for the future of our businesses. Within ecology, if we were all secretive about what we learnt and what we were working on, nothing would ever be discovered, and so no advancements for assisting conservation would occur. Independently, our information is important; collectively it is invaluable.

Beyond that it is also really nice to know the people in your field. It is really, really nice to be able to put a face to a name, or a person to the research/company. It's also really good to be able to read something interesting and to be able to share it with the a person that has the most relevant interest in the subject. We ecologist are not the largest group of people ever, and it is really good to be able to know what is going on within it, on a personal and a professional level.

And how...

By being friendly, approachable and open you are paving the way to making it a successful meeting for you. However, if you are more proactive and do the approaching yourself, you will achieve a lot more. I used to stand in the corner and hope that someone would approach me; I had a dread of attending these events by myself as then I would have no one to fall back on, but now I realise that the best way of achieving something is to be the person that makes that first move - and that includes meeting people.

I have met several very interesting people in recent months due to changing my methodology and becoming the proactive one. People that I have no doubt that I would not have met otherwise. And it is always surprising what you discover - projects which have not managed to become mainstream, people full of helpful advice, and also people who are incredibly grateful of your advice. It is easy to think you're the only person that's found it hard to get a job, or that doesn't know the best way to turn next, but talking to people in the same field shows you that actually, you're not alone - and that you never were.

This is why I think these events are essential. For the people we meet, and for the help, advice and the sense of camaraderie that they bring with them. They are also just really fun! It is great to immerse yourself in your subject and every single time something new will be discovered. They are the best ways I know of to make a bad week absolutely brilliant!

The wonderful world of Bryophytes

Ah, Bryphytes. Those tiny plants which most people never look twice at. Little do they know that armed only with a hand lens, a whole new world will open up before your very eyes. This is a world where the insects are gigantosaurs, and where a toothed leaf can signify a new species. It's a world that few people appreciate, but once delved into, there's no looking back.

In case it's not immediately apparent I have just been on a course. And what a course! A whole day of immersion into all things mossy, with a focus on woodland mosses. I always did like bryophytes, but after a one day course with Liz Kungu and her protege, Julie Smith, I am enthralled by them!

I would like to tell you all about one in particular. Dicranum tauricum. This moss is small, emerald green and grows on both dead and living trees. It's beauty comes from it's identifying feature. It almost always has broken tips to its leaves, and so looks like some small animal has been grazing upon it. The leaf tips aren't missing due to that, however, but due to this being it's form of reproduction.

Instead of practising sexual reproduction, which appears in the form of capsules in mosses, D. tauricum spreads by dropping its leaf tips, each of whom can then, if deposited in the appropriate place, grow into a new plant. And how is it spread? Well, it will often be by birds such as Treecreepers. And you can just imagine this, can't you? The feet, the probing beak, the stiff tail all acting as agents of transport for the moss to spread. This connectivity is what I appreciate so much about the natural world. We none of us are islands, and we're all at mercy of whims of the world.

Isn't it amazing what one small course can make you feel?