By Karla Addesso
On a cold, windy night in Austin, I was kidnapped by a swarm of eccentric entomologists. Well, alright, “kidnapped” might be a tad inaccurate. It would be more correct to say I was invited out to dinner.
It started out casually enough when I met up with a guy we’ll call Phil (the names have been changed to protect the guilty), a former classmate from my graduate school days. We decided to find some food, and before I knew it two of Phil’s co-workers joined us. I knew I had to be back to hang my poster before 9:00 for the following day’s session, but it was only 6:00 and I was sure I had plenty of time.
We headed out from the Convention Center towards what I was told was an excellent French restaurant. During our walk, one of Phil’s co-workers texted other friends who he said were going to join us. We arrived at the restaurant soon after. It was cozy and warm and blessedly half empty. It was a welcome change after fighting for a seat at every other place I had tried to eat at for the previous days’ meals.
I suspected the combination of French cuisine and the pricy menu were to blame for the open spaces. The waitress kindly pulled a couple of tables together. We ordered some appetizers, passed on the snails, and before the plates of cheese and pâté hit the table, four more entomologists arrived.
We went around making introductions and shaking hands, and as we did so a few things became clear to me. The first was that I was the youngest entomologist at the table; the second was that no one knew more than half of the others present; the third was that I knew the names and research of at least three of those in attendance; and finally, that everyone at the table had more than a little character.
We chatted about ourselves and our work while we ordered our meals. Bonnie texted under the table until our final guest, Sam, walked through the door. He was clearly the oldest and most distinguished of our gathering, and when he introduced himself I recognized his name too.
We spent the evening laughing and bantering about nothing and everything. There were a few dirty jokes, some photos passed around of various people’s children or grandchildren, and at some point we all decided to start a journal for the failed experiments we had amassed over the years. I believe it was Sam who suggested it be called PLOSNone.
Later, another brilliant idea was put forth for us all to collaborate on a poster presentation at ESA 2014. It would be written like a chain letter with each of us contributing the next line as we thought it up. Eric suggested we write it in crayon, and I offered up “My Project” as the snappy title to draw the interest of passersby.
Upon learning it was her birthday, the waitress brought Sue’s mousse out with a candle and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. When the battle of dueling cell phone cameras and silly-faced selfies erupted, I exclaimed, “I feel like I’m at a table with my teenage cousins.” It was true and wonderful too, to experience a group of scientific professionals having so much fun.
By the time our superb meal was over, it was long past the allotted time for me to hang up my poster. The more experienced members of the group waved it away, saying I could hang it up just as easily in the morning. As we divided up the check, it became clear that some of them were not ready for the party to end. It was Sue’s birthday after all, and they wanted to celebrate. Those of us packing it in said our goodbyes on the street, and more than one said that we should all meet for dinner again next year.
There were three of us who decided to head back to our rooms — myself, my former classmate, and his co-worker John. As we walked back towards the Hilton we all laughed at the wild meal we’d shared, and John pointed out the irony of the three youngest diners going to bed while the more senior scientists were partying on. We comforted ourselves with comments that none of them could do much to ruin their careers now, but we young professionals needed to wake up early and be bright-eyed for the morning talks.
I returned to my room knowing I’d just had the most entertaining ESA meal I could remember. My stomach even hurt a little from laughing so hard.
I believe there is a lesson to be learned by students and young professionals from this night of silliness I experienced: When you are at an ESA meeting and someone you barely know invites you to join them for dinner, GO!
Even if you do not like French food, are terrified of networking, need to hang a poster, or have some other excuse, push them all aside because you never know how much fun you can have or who you might meet over a couple of overpriced bottles of Beaujolais.
Karla Addesso is a Research Assistant Professor at Tennessee State University.