It’s that time of year

Nearly every year I try to make my way to the American Society for Cell Biology meeting. This year, it’s surprisingly close to home, being held in Denver, Colorado. Recent years have seen it traditionally in San Francisco, San Diego and Washington, DC, with Philly last year being an exception as well.

For me the meetings have evolved tremendously from when I was a student and post-doc. I am less stressed about being able to run around from talk to talk and poster to poster. Indeed, I feel much more comfortable at these meetings, as I find that I suddenly know a lot of people, and surprisingly, a lot of people seem to know me. In fact, even getting from poster to poster is often difficult, with the necessity for social intercourse with anyone who recognizes me on route through the enormous hall.

Another difference for me is that I rarely come alone anymore. In fact this year, including myself, my lab is a contingent of 8 people. My own cheering section at the seminar I’ll deliver tomorrow afternoon. This also leaves me with a responsibility to make sure everyone is okay, behaving, and is meeting other scientists and not going out for dinner alone or only with people from the lab. Me, the social coordinator. Not really in my job description, says the anti-social PI…

One other thing that has evolved over the years is the advertising. Companies and vendors are becoming increasingly aggressive in their marketing. Perhaps I should take a lesson from them in peddling “Welcome Home, Sir.” Prior to the meeting, huge amounts of postcards were arriving in my mailbox–“visit this booth and that booth,” “enter a draw for an Ipad,” and so on and so forth.

Well this year, something even newer: for example, have a look at the back and front of this new card key at the Hilton Hotel:


Back of the card key to enter my room

Front of the card key to enter my room, recently

The only problem–the key wouldn’t work, and finally they had to replace it (after being locked out of my room for 15 min) with a “regular card key.” Doesn’t give me very good vibes about purchasing Xtreme gene…

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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9 Responses to It’s that time of year

  1. cromercrox says:

    Amazing. I once heard of a SF story in which soldiers were unable to understand the instructions for the new guns they were supposed to use because of all the advertisements. And now, a word from our sponsors…

  2. Steve Caplan says:

    Can’t help wondering whether it was planned that way–so that I’d be forced to look at the cards more frequently. But then, as I noted, the subconscious link between success and the product advertised isn’t exactly a good selling point.

  3. stephenemoss says:

    ASCB is the one big cell biology meeting I’ve never been to, despite being a cell biologist and having created a department of cell biology at our Institute. I guess if the funds were available I would go, but our focus is generally on eye or retina meetings, and just keeping up with those already stretches our travel budget to the limit. Usually I manage to send one or two of the lab to ASCB, but this year we have no-one attending. Our loss no doubt!

  4. Steve Caplan says:

    In the wake of the snow pounding the city right now, I can’t help thinking that you might not be missing too much this year…

  5. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Oh, wow! From an ex-biotech marketer’s perspective, that is GENIUS!

    The best my company came up with was branded plastic poster tubes. They were actually so well made and so useful that people would fight for them, and after AAI one year (a huge immunology conference) we saw about ten people carrying them on the same flight home as us! They’d also be visible during poster sessions, for added effect. The best item I ever came up with personally was branded playing cards, with “improve your odds with [product name]” and our URL on the back. The idea was that people would pick them up at the conference and then play with them either at the conference or in the airport / on the plane home, and would therefore remember us! However, the most unaccountably popular items we gave away were these horrendous cheap-looking balls of fuzz (supposed to represent different cell types) with plastic feet, googly eyes, and assorted accessories glued on. People LOVED them and would take handfuls at a time. I was embarrassed by the stupid things.

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