Conference Nostalgia

Time and collaborations change so quickly, with the tides, if you will. It’s been some three years now since my longest (long-distance) collaboration. And I might have missed the anniversary had it not been for two very different reasons: firstly, my daughter’s dour face when I mentioned that we should go skiing (she doesn’t like skiing it seems, and she likes the cold far less). Secondly, my graduates are desperate (having heard the rumours) to attend one themselves.

It’s not all fun and games, you know!

How much of that week do you remember, Jackson?

The Keystone Symposia, Colorado has always been a well-respected conference, and thankfully for us, it’s as much famous for scheduling the majority of its meetings in American and Canadian ski resorts the somewhat eccentric après-ski poster sessions as for the matters and research discussed.

I won’t lie to you, they’re exhausting: early morning conferences, afternoon skiing sessions, and free martini cocktails. The effect is most cheering; there’s a certain bounce affected by high morale and flowing alcohol, usually with the desired effect of lubricating the channels of scientific communication. The downside being that the evening conference sessions could be poorly attended or populated with poorly attentive, downright sleepy scientists.

And I think that’s why my talks were scheduled for the latter half of the days – did you have a hand in that Jackson?

That’s where we first met, after a very weak sermon I gave on salt content in maize. Cut short, by myself if I remember correctly. Certainly, no one’s in the mood for questions and answers so late in the day. So we headed out for a late session on the slopes, and shared a snowboarding instructor on the powdery slopes of the Arapahoe Basin resort.

I remember that you had a few more days’ experience under your belt, Jackson.

And we met up at the next martini poster session, consumed a more than adequate number of martinis to convince ourselves that our joint research efforts could earn us millions if not actually win a Nobel prize!

It turned out we were working on something which turned out to be incredibly similar. Even though my gene work was from a variety of maize, and yours was from a fruit fly. When I showed you my prediction on the structure of the protein my gene would produce, you could tell by the way the protein folded that the DNA sequence had to be similar.

In retaliation for the poor turn out to my talk, we blew off the evening session in favour of continuing our dialogue into the small hours, designing experiments, covering a small heap of notepaper with sketches of molecules we’d create and abstract drawings of what we theorized was happening in the cell to explain what we’d both observed in our experiments.

It was exactly the sort of union and dialogue the Keystone Symposia is designed to foster.

And, since then, we’ve visited each other on a regular basis, keeping our shared research up to date.

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