A CSHL ubiquitin conference. With my kids.

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By Laura Sharpe

I went to a ubiquitin conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). And I took my kids.

Grace Auditorium, CSHL

CSHL is such a pretty location! Not to mention it is in New York and I’ve been wanting to go there for years. Aside from #travelgoals, attending conferences is important for the standard reasons of networking, learning new things, stimulating new ideas, etc. I haven’t been to many conferences overseas for various reasons and I had funding so it seemed like a good idea. This particular conference, “Ubiquitins, autophagy and disease“, is not the type of conference our lab typically attends, which is usually lipid-related ones. However, we have done a lot on protein degradation and ubiquitin recently and I’m generally more interested in proteins than lipids anyway. So I decided I wanted to go. Andrew agreed, after checking the timing wouldn’t impact on our grant applications (it actually did, and we ended up having to get a lot done several weeks before closing dates, but it worked out okay).


My kids are only 3 and 1 and whilst my husband is used to looking after them by himself, it just seemed too mean to go overseas for a conference and leave the family behind. Plus I would miss them. So we decided we would all go, and follow it up with a family holiday in NYC. However, this introduced a number of complexities like where they would stay (at CSHL! They have family accommodation!), whether we could get a passport for my daughter on time, and how we would get there from the airport – the free shuttle to CSHL doesn’t take young kids. Not to be deterred, we sorted these out one by one and began the fun holiday plans. 


When we arrived at CSHL, our accommodation was a two bedroom apartment/palace, spread across two floors, which was a very pleasant surprise and made it a lot easier with the kids, though there were a couple of falls down the stairs by overexcited children.  


The conference was quite different to others I’ve been to. I think everyone (or almost everyone) was staying onsite, and all meals were served in a large dining hall. This means you could be spending all day with the same people, from a 7:30 am breakfast until 10:30 pm when the sessions ended. They have a policy of not advertising the full program in advance, and so I didn’t know beforehand when I would be presenting, or even when the sessions would be run. And although the meals had set serving times, the oral and poster sessions had only start times, with no indication of how long they would run. I also presented my first lightning (2 minute) talk which is probably why I got so much interest at my poster – I counted at least 14 people who each had long conversations with me about my work, which is the busiest I’ve ever been at a poster presentation. All of them seemed genuinely interested as well, which was nice. I got some ideas about the work I was presenting, and I had some people who were looking for advice for their own work which was somehow related. It was a really great poster session and I didn’t feel too bad leaving once the crowds thinned out a little (at 10 pm!). 


There were frequent reminders throughout the planning stage and the actual conference that you must not discuss the contents on social media, and so although there were several cool things I’d like to mention, I don’t think I’m allowed. However, I will note that following one of the talks on the first night which indicated that the standard way to illustrate a particular mechanism was in fact a little bit incorrect, several later talks had corrected their own diagrams (or noted that it was not yet up to date!), showing the speed with which conferences can educate the scientific community about recent discoveries relevant to their own work. 


I think there was only one other Australian at the conference (from Monash) and he excitedly introduced himself to me and we chatted a little. He had cleverly flown via Hong Kong rather than LAX, meaning that both were international flights and he didn’t need to race through the airport to make his connecting flight – good idea! 


Because I was there with my family, my experience was probably different than others who were travelling alone, or indeed those who travelled with their lab groups. At meals, I ate with my family and aside from people smiling at my kids, we were mostly left alone. Had I been by myself, I probably would have sat down at a free table simultaneously hoping but fearing that someone would sit with me and strike up a conversation without me needing to do so. I did however go to the “Meet the speakers” lunch and chatted with a collaborator I’d never met before which was quite cool. 


So what did the family do while I was at the conference? Well, they did some laundry.

Watching the washing machine

But they also learnt some science! #littlefuturescientists

Science education
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