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From 12-14th Sept 2007, the Dickinson and Rossall labs from the University of Nottingham decamped to the University of Bath, along with 130 other delegates from 10 countries, for the British Society for Plant Pathology Presidential Meeting. The topic this year was ‘attack and defence in plant disease’ with an emphasis on molecular approaches.
As usual, a first class range of scientists representing diverse areas of studies were invited to present their current research, providing an enlightening and thought-provoking time for all. As the conference progressed it became apparent that two organisms were monopolising many presentations- Magnaporthe grisea and Pectobacterium atrosepticum, obviously hotbeds of current research. This led to another interesting debate over the ‘correct’ naming of the latter, with a distinct division between Erwinia carotovora subsp. atroseptica and Pectobacterium atrosepticum. It also came to the attention of the authors that there was an ‘age gap’ issue influencing which name a person used. but we’re sure that over time a winner will be established regardless of the generation of researcher!
The PH Gregory prize allowed top class PhD and Post Doc students to present their work. All presentations were beautifully executed and on the whole perfectly timed. Sadly however there could only be one winner, and this year the prize went to Mary Illes of the University of Oxford, a clearly spoken PhD student who will go far with her interests in nitric oxides and the much loved and talked about M. grisea.
Well, that’s the mandatory conference comments out of the way so now lets go on to what people really want to hear! There were the ‘technical issues’ during Richard Cooper’s presidential address – inspired timing by technical ghosts one might say! The conference dinner, well where to start. An interesting opening entertainment potentially ruined by band member illness was prevented by John Mansfield jumping into the fray to play the spoons (see Newsletter front cover). With free flowing wine and champagne people were soon up on the dance floor, jiving away to classic songs of the likes of Mustang Sally and other oldies. We now realise why students never invite university lecturers on a night out, the students would be put to shame!
As students, conferences such as these provide an interesting opportunity to develop presentation skills, a key aspect of which can be gleaned from watching a broad range of lectures by varied speakers. It’s interesting that as young scientist we are told how crucial it is to follow the guidelines provided and what became rapidly apparent was the complete disregard virtually all speakers had for their allocated time slot! Now we know just how passionate we can get about our research but come on! So we, the students, decided it was time to turn the tables on our supervisors and mentors, and (by means that shall remain classified) the marking scheme for the PH Gregory competition was acquired. Now although the thought did cross our minds to grade all the presentations as is so callously done to us poor students, we decided instead to give general comments and then award our own student PH Gregory Prize, and being nice and all we’ve even awarded a runner up. So the criteria;
Abstracts- well seriously who reads them properly unless they’re about what you work on… so we assume good!
Scientific content- well we can’t criticise there or they wouldn’t be presenting at such a prestigious conference.
Organisation and presentation- well this is where the fun starts. Now we all know that people mix together slides from old talks but how hard is it to put the same background on them all! I guess this is one of those cases where there are as many different approaches as there are people. On the whole though well put together and presented. One comment would be the presumption of a large amount of prior knowledge on the techniques and pathogen which at such a broad ranging conference isn’t always the case meaning sometimes certain people had lost the thread of the presentation within the first few slides!
Answering questions- as expected some interesting debates were sparked and the passion people hold for their research is abundantly apparent.
Now after considering all of the above there was a clear winner who not only stuck to time, but also had excellent slides and managed to give a complete idiots guide to his research, and this was Ian Toth with his excellent presentation on genomics of P. atrosepticum (see picture below).
We also felt that there was one other presentation that stood out for its clarity and capacity to stimulate people with no subject specific knowledge and this was Ralf Voegele, a deserving runner-up. Sadly we have to inform the winners there is no prize other than the warm fluffy feeling you get when you win something!
So, we’ve decided to come up with our top five tips for presentations:
> Include a video. Everyone loves them.
> Stay within the time limit!
> Include a 5 minute idiots guide to your research. You’ll find people won’t fall asleep after the 2nd slide!
> Stay within the time limit (the repetitive nature of this point highlights its importance!)
> Beg the organisers to not be (in order of importance)! – The first speaker the night after the presidential dinner, the final conference presentation, before a coffee break, before lunch
Overall, as usual the BSPP put together a wonderful conference representing the breadth and depth of research and knowledge in the plant pathology world at the moment. An engaging and productive time was had by all, and we look forward to the next year with eager anticipation that the organisers might also supply everyone’s favourites… a free pen. . . and maybe even a highlighter (after all we are poor students!!)
Jennifer Hodgetts and Hannah Marks, University of Nottingham.