ICE 2022: A Graduate Student’s Perspective
By Mason Russo
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
The return of the International Congress of Entomology with the 26th edition in Helsinki, Finland, was a whirlwind of experiences and was different than any other scientific meeting I have attended. With the theme of “Entomology for the Planet,” the meeting brought together entomologists from over 100 countries to share poster and oral presentations and attend symposia, and it was the official return of in-person interaction at scientific conferences of this magnitude for entomologists.
An inspiring opening ceremony was led by Heikki Hokkanen, Ph.D., president of the ICE 2022 Helsinki Organizing Committee. It included a variety of speakers from the European Commission LIFE (L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement) program, the Entomological Society of Korea, and Finnish Entomological Societies. The opening plenary presentation by Segenet Kelemu, Ph.D., titled “Innovations in insect science for impact,” was an exciting presentation that highlighted sustainable products including fertilizer, cooking oil, and protein products for humans and animals that can be made with insects. This talk was followed by a history lesson on the International Congress of Entomology. The very first meeting was held in Belgium in 1910. Since then, ICE has only been delayed or cancelled five times: in 1915 and 1941 due to World Wars I and II, in 1945 and 1955 due to logistical issues, and in 2020 due to the global COVID pandemic.
I was able to attend the International Congress of Entomology 2016 meeting in Orlando and was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the meeting. More than 6,000 attendees gathered at a massive convention center that contained a large exhibitor hall and had long walks between symposia. The 2022 meeting was different from that experience for a variety of reasons. The host city, Helsinki was an excellent venue to visit in summer, as the sun sets very late, the weather is pleasant, and the public transportation is excellent. (And the conference gave each participant transportation passes valid for the duration of the meeting.) However, the meeting was much smaller than 2016, with fewer attendees and a smaller exhibitor hall. An estimated 2,400 participants had registered for the meeting, but it appeared significantly fewer were present conference.
The low attendance can be attributed to a variety of factors. For one, despite a global vaccination campaign that enabled the conference to finally proceed after a two-year, pandemic-induced delay, the persistence of the omicron subvariants was a likely cause for concern. Meanwhile, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine also possibly played a role; Russian representatives were not at the meeting, and others may have been uncomfortable with Helsinki’s proximity to Russia. (In fact, the conference had initially offered day trips to Saint Petersburg for attendees, but these were removed for apparent reasons.) Another notable absence was faculty, researchers, and students, from China. There were multiple talks that were pre-recorded or presented by co-authors of Chinese faculty as they are not allowed to travel to the meeting, and international flights out of mainland China were extremely limited.
Hokkanen and his team faced challenges no other organizers of ICE had faced before, yet they were able to move forward and adjust to make the meeting the successful conference that it was. Their versatility and competency allowed the meeting to run as smoothly as it could, given the multitude of unforeseen circumstances. They deserve recognition for their hard work for bringing the meeting to their country after two years of delays and for overcoming logistical hurdles that could overwhelm any event organizer in this situation. They said this could not have been accomplished without the help from section organizers, symposium organizers, sponsors, exhibitors, volunteers, and congress participants.
The meeting was an excellent opportunity for entomologists around the world to collaborate and network. There were many official opportunities for this including the opening mixer, various mixers within entomological groups, a graduate student cruise around the archipelago, an ecological city walk, the gala dinner, and the closing reception. With the smaller scale of the meeting, networking and discussions were easier to conduct at the convention center as it was not overwhelming to find someone through the crowds.
This meeting was valuable to me as a graduate student and provided connections and interactions that would never have occurred at an online meeting. (Though I do acknowledge the merits of virtual meetings, such as minimal travel costs, environmental benefits, the ability to playback talks for weeks after the conference, and the ease of submitting a presentation.) What was the value for an entomologist from Hawaii to fly across the world to attend a meeting in Finland? My objectives were to reconnect with previous acquaintances, attend a variety of symposia, network for collaborations, and make new connections. I was able to attend many talks related to biological control, integrated pest management, biodiversity decline, and invasive species.
Our lab is interested in an international collaboration to find biological control agents for an invasive insect in Hawaii that arrived from Asia. On the first day of the meeting, I was able to meet with someone from Thailand, who connected us to a colleague that was very interested in this project. As for old and new connections, this meeting was the perfect opportunity to pursue this, and I was able to successfully meet other scientists from a large spectrum of entomological backgrounds. I even was able to network with someone who I could potentially work with in a postdoctoral role upon completion of my degree.
Revisiting the theme of this ICE meeting, “Entomology for the Planet,” the conference addressed many challenges we face with feeding a growing global population, preventing the loss of global biodiversity, the increase in vector-borne disease epidemics, and the challenges we face with invasive species and climate change. These questions will require global collaboration and policy changes to mitigate the worst of these threats. The 2022 meeting in Helsinki was essential to bring back in-person discussion about these topics, and the connections and collaborations that result from meetings like this could cause positive changes for the world. This highlights the need for entomologists and the continuation for scientific discourse at this level. I hope to see this momentum continue for the 27th International Congress of Entomology in Kyoto, Japan: “New Discoveries through Consilience,” due to take place in August 2024.
Mason Russo is a Ph.D. student in entomology at the University of Hawai’i. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.