Ocean Sciences 2020 - San Diego

Eleni Christoforou

University of Glasgow


Conferences are fun, they said. You get to meet new people and gain valuable experiences, they said. Well, they couldn’t have been more right about it.

But let’s take this from the beginning, from the moment I saw the humongous building, the San Diego Convention Center, my Google Maps were leading me to. Stepping afoot, it was an experience by itself, an intimidating one, I would say. I could see tens of people at a glance, all wearing white budges with their name, the institution they were representing and the light blue OSM2020 logo. It was fascinating to think that all of us were connected by one single thing; out love for the ocean.

I went up the escalators and located the ‘speaker ready room’. A computer cluster where I was assigned a desk and was asked to ensure that my previously uploaded presentation was displayed as expected. After completing my ‘day 1 task’ I went to have a sneak-peek at the room in which I was going to present the following day. That would either help me relieve my stress or scare me further. Luckily it was the former. The lecture hall could fit about 100 people, give or take, and everyone seemed so friendly and interested in the presenter. That made me feel at ease and anticipated my upcoming presentation with excitement.

The following day I woke up bright and early. Call it stress, call it jet-lack, who knows? I got ready and went to the convention center where I attended the first part of the microfiber sessions. There were very interesting talks regarding quantification of microplastics from water samples and organisms from around the globe. At that moment I feared that my research experiment would not have been relevant but that thought faded away when I attended the next session; a workshop focused on creating collaborations between art and science. My two passions! There, we got into fascinating discussions raising issues on how art can be used to communicate science to the public, the stakeholders and the policy makers and how scientists need to accept art in their numeric and statistics-based world.

After that, a quick lunch break, with my partner, was all I needed before the second microplastic session at which I was going to present the findings of my research. This session was mostly focused on experimental research which explained why I was a better fit there than the morning session.

I was the last presenter of the session, so stress and unsettlement were building up for 1 hour and 50 minutes until it was finally time to get on stage. I was happy to see that I had caught the attention of the audience as soon as I projected my title ‘The Long-Term Effects of Microfibers on the Ecosystem Services Performed by Marine Bivalves’. Even the Chair of the session said, “This will be interesting”. To be honest, I can’t remember much after that. Thoughts were racing in my brain and words were coming out of my mouth while I was going through the slides. I remember though looking at the audience and seeing nodding heads and not puzzled faces, which I thought was a good sign.

I am originally from Cyprus where I attended The English School in Nicosia. In 2017, I graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, USA with a BSc in Marine Biology and BA in Art. Most of my biological experience is focused on intertidal invertebrate ecology while most of my art is influenced by nature (elenichri.com). I am now undergoing my PhD in Marine Biology investigating the potential impact of light pollution and microfibers on the ecosystem services provided by marine bivalves.

Eight minutes later - which felt like centuries to me - I was ready to accept questions. There was only time for one question which ended up being a simple one, regarding a photo of a sample that I had shown. Whilst on stage, I was relieved that I was not asked anything more challenging but looking back, I must admit that anything more challenging would have enhanced my conference experience even more and of course it could have possibly helped in my research. Leaving the podium, I felt confused, not sure if my presentation had a coherent flow but, my partner who was present reassured me that everything went well, the talk had a smooth flow and I sounded natural. I was glad to hear that and realised that I only said what I had to, and none of the thoughts clustering my brain came out.

It was at last done and over with. An amazing and unforgettable experience where I learned a lot about the world of academia, shared my small research niche with so many knowledgeable scientists interested in listening and learning from my work.

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