I think the annual Ecological Society of America meeting needs some new talk types. I know, I know – there are already lots of different kinds of sessions – workshops, organized oral, contributed oral, symposia, special, and posters. But I think ESA would be better with some ‘overview’ talks and lectures for the general public.
One of the great things about ESA is getting to learn about research in ecological subfields really different from your own. Learning about different theories and methods and study organisms gives me good new ideas for approaching my own research questions and provokes totally new questions about the system I work in.
But sometimes trying to learn about something new at ESA leads to sitting through completely baffling talks. For example, you might get really confused if you wanted to learn about how species can coexist, but didn’t know about the storage effect! So I think it would be really fun and useful if there were several review/introduction sorts of lectures to some of the major ecological subfields, perhaps preceding a related session.They’d have to be longer than the typical 10-15 minute talk, of course, and it wouldn’t be an easy task to summarize, say, theories of species coexistence, in 30 to 60 minutes, but I think (especially young) ecologists would flock to such talks.
The other sort of talk that’s missing at ESA are public lectures. The last two years the meeting themes have emphasized educating and working with non-ecologists to practice good planetary stewardship. But there’s little actual interaction with non-ecologists at the meetings and the public isn’t welcome at talks (unless they pay the very hefty registration fee). ESA meetings are enormous – thousands and thousands of ecologists sharing recent research, catching up with friends, and exploring a new city. We’re very visible with our matching bags and teva/chaco/keen footwear. We clean out the restaurants in a large radius around the convention center.
But we don’t tell the public why we’re here! I’ve been stopped a few times by curious locals asking what ecologists do at a conference and always feel a little embarrassed when they show interest but there isn’t really a way for them to be involved or learn more. So I think there should be a few big ‘ecology for the public’ lectures that are fun, totally free, and well advertised in the communities we invade every year.