IET BioSysBio 2009

Frank and Dan have already blogged about this year’s BioSysBio conference in Cambridge (23rd-25th March). I just thought I’d add my thoughts to theirs.

I don’t get to go to many conferences. The nature of my work doesn’t really demand it, but about once a year it does me good to reconnect with some cutting edge science, and get a good idea of developments in the field as a whole.

Before now, ISMB has been the conference of choice, as the largest gathering of bioinformatics types, it certainly was the obvious one. But in recent years it has become a cumbersome beast. Multi-tracked and vast, hard to pin down stuff you want to hear, often disappointing when you do find something. So this year we cast about for something smaller and fresher. We had heard good things about BioSysBio last year, and it certainly looked promising, so we made our decision.

And boy, was it the right decision. Small enough to be single track, there were very few choices to make in terms of what talks to attend (actually there were none, there was only really one parallel session, workshops on the Tuesday afternoon, and I was obliged to be at the ONDEX one, since I was helping out). This meant that instead of skipping between halls, missing bits and pieces of talks, and sometimes not bothering at all, I sat in one place, pretty much for 3 days straight, and listened to everything.

Highlights were the ethics and biosecurity debate, with a fabulously engaging talk from Drew Endy; showcases of the importance of transcription initiation and elongation from Marko Djordjevic and Andre Riberio; an excellent Synthetic Biology talk from a man apparently inspired by the iGEM competition, Philip LoCascio; and a couple of excellent videos of lab robots hard at work (Adam the Robot Scientist, and another in the final paper talk of the conference by T Ben Yehezkel).

Wordle of #biosysbio tweets

Wordle of #biosysbio tweets

Next year I would happily micro-blog the conference again. This was my first conference since I joined Twitter and FriendFeed, and I was unsure about how I (and my followers) would feel about really going hard at the live updating of the conference experience. I think, though, that those of us who Tweeted provided an idea of the content being presented to those who could not attend, and the feeling I got from the feedback we received, and the fact that not a single person unfollowed me in the three days, is that we were providing a useful service. It has also provided me with a useful resource, a set of notes on the event produced by a crowd, not just me. Search for #biosysbio to see what I mean. Oh, and no review of this conference would be complete without a mention of Ally’s blogging, in which she chronicled pretty much every single talk, except her own (I did that one!)

I do think that for future events I would create threads on FriendFeed for each talk, and group my thoughts about it there, then tweet the URL of the FriendFeed post – this might make things a little less noisy.

Coming back from a conference feeling exactly how you should feel, refreshed, invigorated and excited to get on with your own work, is a great thing. For this feeling alone I will be returning to BioSysBio next year.

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