In January of this year, I was fortunate enough to gain the RTSG top up funds which enabled me to attend the “Mechanisms and Outcomes of Predator-Prey Interactions: Scaling Across Space and Time” conference in California, USA. It is a prestigious biannual international conference which aims to discuss developments in the field of predator prey interactions as well as their far-reaching ecological consequences. When I first found out about it, I realised what a fantastic opportunity it would be to present my work to leading researchers in the fields of Physiology, Behavioural Ecology and Metapopulation Ecology. The conference topic was highly relevant to my own research into the pervasive influence of predation on prey and it was unlikely I would have encountered a similar opportunity during my PhD to discuss my research with leading academics.
At the time, I was at a crucial stage of my PhD (second year) and was designing experiments which would make up the bulk of my results. Whist out there I was able to talk to researchers in the area about the specific experiments I was designing and received some very useful guidance. More specifically, I was able to gain access to some unpublished research, which allowed me to make some crucial alterations to my experimental design. This information would have come too late for my experiments had I had to wait for it to be published.
Another important and tangible outcome of attending this conference is the possibility to publish my work in a special edition for a prestigious journal. As part of the conference, the organisers were asked to produce a special edition for Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution whose focus would be on predator prey interactions. I have (at the time of writing) had an abstract of the work I presented at the conference accepted and I am currently in the process of completing the manuscript for submission. Publishing my work in this special edition will doubtlessly result in my work being more widely read and hopefully more widely cited.
One of the unexpected benefits of attending this conference in my second year is that it has revitalised my enthusiasm and motivation for my project. In the second year, many students (myself included) lose drive for their project. Being able to talk to leading researchers in the same field and the possibility of publishing my work in a special edition has definitely given me a much needed boost with regards to motivation.
Overall, I am convinced that attending this conference has increased the exposure of my research, improved my experimental design and ultimately my final thesis as well as giving me a vital lift during the hard second year.