#ESA2016 open thread (UPDATEDx2)

Brian, Meg, and I all skipped the ESA meeting this year. So you tell us–how was it? What’s new and exciting in ecology this year?

Below the fold: brief comments on choice of site. What are your favorite past sites? Where would you like to see ESA meet in future?

I hear this year’s ESA was a small meeting, which I think was widely expected. Of course, sometimes attendees end up liking sites they weren’t excited about in advance. I know many attendees were pleasantly surprised by Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis (though personally, I was looking forward to all three in advance). But I think the combination of extreme heat + unexciting downtown is something ESA should try to avoid if it can. I recognize that the meeting needs to move around the country. I just think the heat in the south makes it especially important that southern sites have interesting, walkable, vibrant downtowns. Austin was great!

Where would you like to see ESA meet in future? Would you like to see the meeting rotate between 4-5 favorite sites, and if so, which ones? That idea’s been mooted, though personally I think it’d get boring after a while. But if we were gonna do it, off the top of my head I’d say (in no particular order): Portland, Austin, Minneapolis, Madison, Pittsburgh.

UPDATE: ESA just mailed a survey to people who didn’t attend this year’s meeting but have attended in the past. One of the questions indicated that ESA is considering rotating predictably among several “popular” sites, and asked how likely you would be to attend a meeting at each of them. The list (and my off the cuff reactions): Portland (great!), Austin (great!), Sacramento (really?), New Orleans (hopefully will be great), Salt Lake City (really?maybe), and Baltimore (wouldn’t be my pick, but sure).

Are there cities to which ESA hasn’t been (at least, not recently) to which you’d like to see it go, recognizing that we probably can’t afford NYC/Boston/etc.? How about Denver? Kansas City? Columbus, OH? Is Boulder too small? Meg, can ESA do Ann Arbor, and if so can we all crash at your place?🙂 Can ESA afford Seattle? What about Canadian cities–Montreal (again), Vancouver, Ottawa, Quebec City, Victoria? Odds are that ESA and most attendees would make out like bandits on the exchange rate with a Canadian site. Would the exchange rate difference make Toronto feasible? Just spitballin’ here, I’ve never been to most of these cities. Maybe some of them are poor choices or non-options for reasons I’m not aware of.

I’m looking forward to Portland, Louisville, and New Orleans. Not sure about Salt Lake City. (UPDATE: on further reflection, and notwithstanding a commenter who says SLC will pleasantly surprise people, I’m increasingly unsure about SLC. Where will we all eat on Sunday night? And SLC is very much not a beer town, thanks to state restrictions on beer availability and alcohol content, which seems like it could well hold down attendance. Lots of ecologists like beer, it’s a big reason why Portland was such a hit.) (UPDATE #2: Peter Adler comments that my previous update is based on outdated information, reporting that the downtown restaurant scene has really taken off in the last 5 years and the alcohol laws have been liberalized. So I withdraw my skepticism of of SLC as a destination and am looking forward to giving it a try.)

41 thoughts on “#ESA2016 open thread (UPDATEDx2)

  1. I was also pleasantly surprised by Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. (I didn’t go the year it was in Minneapolis.) I would be on board with the meeting rotating through about 5 sites, but I’m boring.🙂

    I don’t think there’s a conference center in Ann Arbor that could fit ESA. But maybe Detroit?

  2. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by ESA locations, but Ft. Lauderdale was the clear exception. I have no need to ever go back there again, especially in the summer. Given the low attendance at this meeting and how well Portland worked out last time, I expect that next year’s meeting will be huge!

    • Yeah, I have heard from a few attendees now and nobody had anything good to say about Ft. Lauderdale.

      Further back, Memphis and Savannah were similar, I think.

      Sounds like we need more ideas for good southern (esp. southeastern) locations besides Austin…

  3. I never attended ESA before and I skipped this year also because I already attended one conference overseas (GRC on pred/prey interactions in Ventura, CA last Jan). Seeing what you tell about this year I am really looking forward to next year when I will join the crowd for the first time. I am also happy to know that DE will provide a lot of useful advice once😉

  4. Via ESA’s history and records committee, a time series of annual meeting attendance since 1995:

    Key features:

    -long term trend towards bigger meetings. Back when I first started going to ESA (Providence, 1996), 3000 was a big meeting. Now, it’s small. I was aware of this trend but it was nice to see the data.

    -The two meetings that jump out as really small, relative to others held shortly prior or shortly thereafter: Memphis and Savannah. I assume Ft. Lauderdale will be the third. Common thread: hot southern cities with unexciting or depressed downtowns (Snowbird was small too, the second time ESA went there, but it was small because of the limited capacity of the venue. ESA’s now clearly too big for Snowbird and will never go back.)

      • Apparently, the optimal location for ESA from the perspective of attendees is “rust belt or upper Midwest city that outsiders incorrectly think is boring/dying”. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis all have good downtowns–but many outsiders don’t realize this and so decide not to attend. Meaning that those who do attend get the pleasure of experiencing an ESA in a good location without it being overwhelmingly huge.

        An imperfect but pretty good proxy for good ESA locations: downtown concentration of brewpubs and good beer bars. Both because lots of ecologists like to drink beer, and because that’s a good proxy for a vibrant, interesting downtown. The “beer test” picks out Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis as promising locations, and Memphis, Savannah, and Ft. Lauderdale as unpromising locations. It’s not a perfect test–Sacramento and Baltimore are fine (not great, not terrible) even though neither would do well on the beer test. But I think it’s a pretty good test.

      • p.s. Minneapolis actually wasn’t *that* small. It’s more that, visually, it looks small because it was the year after Portland. It’s in the same ballpark as Milwaukee, Albuquerque, Austin (surprisingly to me, I’d have thought that would’ve been bigger), and Sacramento.

        Also, I missed San Jose, and now I’m retroactively bummed. Should I be? Was San Jose an awesome location?

        And what did everyone see in Tucson that I didn’t? That was a big meeting at the time, but I remember much preferring Madison and even Spokane as a site.

    • Telling graph! Word on the street is that people were just skipping Ft. Laud to go to PDX next year. I recall a similar mentality keeping people from attending in Austin, which I assume would have had a larger attendance had the next year’s meeting been somewhere less objectively fun. Southern cities that I could see ESA drawing a lot of attendees would be New Orleans and Atlanta.

      Also, if Canada can host ESA meetings, so, too, should Mexico and Puerto Rico!

      • Yes, I’m sure part of the reason Ft. Lauderdale was so small this year is that it was sandwiched in between a big meeting, and what’s likely to be a big meeting. Many people who don’t attend ESA every year are strategic in their choices–not attending in year X if they see that year X+1 or X-1 will be a more desirable location. People also try to avoid years when they think others won’t be attending. One reason many people (including me) skipped Ft. Lauderdale is that they knew others would be skipping it too.

        Re: Mexico and Puerto Rico, it’s mostly a question of finding a suitable city with a suitable convention center. And depending on where you were thinking of going in Mexico, I suppose travel distance might become an issue. The Canadian cities I suggested are all right over the US border, with the semi-exception of Quebec City.

        OTOH, I do think it would be fun for the ESA to do an occasional one-off meeting much further afield, recognizing that many members would be unable to attend due to travel time & costs, but that it would be a special experience for those able to attend. Indeed, ESA has done that in the past–it met in Hawaii many years ago. Meeting jointly with a foreign scientific society is a good excuse for occasional meetings far afield. Intecol (which in practice is mostly a non-North American society) met jointly with ESA in Montreal in 2005. Perhaps ESA could return the favor one of these years and hold its annual meeting with Intecol in Europe or Brazil or South Africa or something.

  5. Tucson had a trip to Biosphere 2, which was very interesting! That graph looks very cyclical, could it be that strategic decisions about attendance began in the early 2000s and it has subsequently become synchronised?

    Like you guys I wasn’t there this year – but I did have a dream about it. It was the usual anxiety dream about not knowing the time or venue for my talk, not having uploaded the talk, trying to find the venue and getting lost, etc., etc. All for a conference I had no intention of being at! How do you explain that one, Prof. Freud?

    • “That graph looks very cyclical, could it be that strategic decisions about attendance began in the early 2000s and it has subsequently become synchronised?”

      Hard to say. There are various non-mutually-exclusive reasons why lots of people might might end up making the same decisions about attendance. Maybe people are strategic (everybody knows that everybody knows that nobody is excited about Ft. Lauderdale). Maybe lots of people just have similar taste in cities.

      Prediction for upcoming meetings: Portland will be huge, Louisville typical, New Orleans huge, Salt Lake City tiny (not quite Ft. Lauderdale tiny, but close).

  6. I was at ESA this year, didn’t think that Fort Lauderdale was all that bad. Now, I am not excited about southern cities and their August heat & humidity but otherwise, there were plenty of places to eat within reasonable walking distance and other nice opportunities to explore, though perhaps not as charismatic as other cities mentioned above. The convention center was oddly situated with a lovely view of a parking garage and the industrial side of the city. Personally, I would have preferred to wait for Portland but the timing matched up with my research and family schedules better this year.

    That is a telling graph above and from what I heard, this year might not even make it on that scale with attendance 2200-2400. This was apparent in session attendance as well as quality. The meeting seemed dominated by grad students and presentation quality much more variable. Unfortunately most sessions were poorly attended (too many concurrent sessions for the attendance?). There’s always a few sessions that I end up skipping because they’re standing room only and I don’t like to play the role of sardine. Not this year (only the upgoer5 session came close). That also means that getting quality comments and feedback seem limited.

    I went with a colleague in marine/aquatic ecology and there’s a good chance he’ll never return as there was so little for him this year. At least for him there are other big meetings close to his interests. For my terrestrial interests, there are limited options beyond ESA.

    • Thanks Mark, good to get a (somewhat) different perspective than what I’d heard from my friends.

      2200-2400! Wow. I was guessing it might be as low as 2500, but 2200-2400 would be shockingly low.

    • Sometimes it isn’t the city so much as the location of the convention center used. Salt Lake is actually a pretty neat little city; I liked it when living in Logan.

      I thought that some of the big Universities were getting into the convention business, building facilities in partnership with local governments… Not sure if any are large enough for ESA, but a meeting in Athens, Ga for example would be fun. I tend to go to small meetings myself, I enjoy them more and I feel I get more out of them.

      • Yes, Athens, GA would be great if it had a convention center large enough. Lots of other college towns would be great except for lack of a large enough convention center.

        Back before my day, the ESA of course used to meet at universities, as CSEE and Evolution still do.

        One nice thing about being small enough to do that is that you could also meet in a major city if you wanted. Single big hotels in major cities can host conferences of several hundred people, maybe even up to a thousand-ish. Apparently, a US paleontological society often meets at a single hotel in places like NYC and Boston.

        Thanks for the tip on Salt Lake City. Have only passed through. Now wondering if it might turn out to be another Milwaukee, Minneapolis, or Pittsburgh. Although attendance may be held down a bit because of Utah laws restricting alcohol levels in beer. A lot of beer nerds don’t really rate Utah beer. It’s the flip side of why so many ESA member love Portland…

    • Also, re: marine ecology, sorry there wasn’t much for your colleague, but there never is in my experience. Marine ecology is never much of a presence at ESA. Just a bit of intertidal, salt marsh, and nearshore coastal stuff from folks who often publish in general ecology journals. Think Bruce Menge, Mark Bertness, and Emmett Duffy.

      • OK, I have to stick up for SLC here. The restaurant scene has really taken off over the last 5 yrs, and there are more than enough very interesting places to eat to keep people happy for a week. And almost all of them are right in downtown or easy to get to from downtown. Alcohol laws have also been greatly liberalized and there are many brew pubs. The new natural history museum is a must visit for the architecture alone. best of all, you can get onto a trail and hike/run into the foothills (and beyond) about 10 blocks from the convention center. On the other hand, nightlife is an odd experience (not that I’d really know), because downtown feels like a ghost town after 8 pm. The hot spots get crowded, but the streets between them are empty.

      • I was hoping you’d chime in Peter. Good to know my impression (and the impression of folks I’ve spoken with) is outdated. Will update the post.

  7. I have good things to say about Ft. Lauderdale:
    1. The temperature was actually cooler than in Boston for half the conference. Plus there’s air conditioning. I really don’t get the “ooh ooh too hot” thing. During conferences, I spend all day at the air conditioned convention center, evenings at air conditioned restaurants, and nights in an air conditioned hotel room. At home, I swelter through un air conditioned evenings and nights and weekends in August. This year I Skyped with my family from the pleasant air conditioning of Florida, while watching sweat pour down their faces in the 95+ un-air-conditioned Boston heat.
    2. There was an awesome eatery (Day Market Kitchen) located steps away from the convention center doors. Actual vegetables in things other than salads, healthy, not drenched in oil or butter. The thing I usually like least about conferences is the need to eat out — which typically means eat poorly. But this year I didn’t have to hunt far and wide to find food that wouldn’t make me feel gross.
    3. Low attendance meant a great opportunity for students and early career folks to talk with “big wigs” who didn’t have crammed schedules. I chatted for substantial time with a professor I’ve been wanting to talk to for years, the new head of NEON, an NSF program officer, a book publisher, and the editor of a leading journal. In previous years, I probably would have needed to set up appointments for these chats; this year I could get in reasonably long impromptu chats.

    • “Plus there’s air conditioning. I really don’t get the “ooh ooh too hot” thing. ”

      What I don’t like is the contrast between the heat outside and chill inside. I don’t like having to wear a sweater in the conference building that I have to take off and lug with me when I go outside. Though really, it’s not a big deal–like you, I’m not much bothered by heat per se (it’s such a novelty for a Calgarian!). I care much more about the downtown setting.

    • Hi Jim, long time no see!

      I agree that Bozeman and Santa Fe would both be great if they have convention centers big enough. Same for Boulder.

      Going to Alaska would be kind of like going to Hawaii, which the ESA did many years ago. I think would be great as a one-off. It’d be a small meeting but a memorable experience for those who were able to go.

      I highly doubt that Vegas, Phoenix, and LA are on the radar, for various reasons, so I’m sure you’ll get your wish that we never meet there.🙂

      Edit: See following comment re: Omaha.

      • p.s. Yes, I know why you would like an excuse to go to Omaha in June.🙂 I’d go with you if we had one–but we’re never likely to. At least not an ESA-based excuse. We’re going to have to settle for hoping that ESA meets in towns with MLB or MiLB teams that are at home during the meeting. Which they often aren’t. The Twins for instance were on the road when the ESA met in Minneapolis, as were the O’s when we last went to Baltimore. I did take in a AAA game in Sacramento with an ecologist friend when ESA was there.

        Sadly, because ESA chooses sites several years in advance, “is your baseball team at home during the conference” will never be a consideration in site selection.😦

      • What kind of a Society is it that doesn’t at least glance at baseball franchise locations and schedules when planning it’s annual conference? Signs of the times if you ask me. It’s not like there aren’t entire ecosystems and all kinds of interesting and/or chaotic dynamics going on in the bleachers.

        I’m glad you made it over to see the ‘ol River Cats. I do like that park–spent a number of evenings there back in the day. [ Went to grad school in Davis, right next door there. Not much else to do there (read:nothing), and great chance to sit back and wonder out loud just how the hell hot it was, between yells of “Hey batter, batter…swing”.]

        I’m all for a return visit to Snowbird UT myself, baseball or no. I don’t remember anything about the conference itself, but man the hikes were terrific.

  8. Instead of a rota of 5-6 cities, how about a hybrid of rota + new cities? Portland, Austin, Baltimore, maybe New Orleans, one of Pittsburgh/Madison/Minneapolis/Montreal, and a new city.

    The idea is to have enough cities in the rota so people don’t get bored and it rotates through every part of the country, while *also* avoiding having any “dud” cities permanently in the rota. Because once you’ve been through the rota once and everybody’s learned that, yup, not that many people like going to SLC (or Sacaramento, possibly), attendance in future years will really crater for those less popular cities. “Less popular city” + “everybody expects the meeting to be poorly attended and so decides not to attend themselves” is a deadly combination. Ideally, you want people who don’t attend every year to be attending more or less at random, independently of one another (right?) Not having all occasional attendees showing up in the same years, and then skipping the same years.

  9. Do you think attendance numbers also depend on where other societal meetings are being held that year? For instance if a scientist only wants to go to one big summer conference and Evolution or Botany is in a really exciting city and ESA isn’t than the later would be poorly attended. I would think location of other big societal meetings are plays a role also.

    • Hmm, that could be a bit of it, I guess. But only a small fraction of ESA attendees attend any other given summer conference. (Many of them probably attend *some* other conference, but it’s different ones for different people.) So I doubt this is the main factor.

  10. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is a huge, well attended conference that is in San Francisco every year. I think a few (or one!) city that is excellent would really help out ESA attendance. After attending AGU for the past 5 years I feel like I know San Francisco. There is no question about where to go, what to do. I have favorite restaurants in a city on the other side of the country from me. It feels very nice!

    (Note- I’m aware AGU is being held in New Orleans and DC in 2017/2018 due to construction on the convetion center in San Francisco).

    • AGU is considerably bigger than ESA (~24,000 at the annual meeting vs. 2500-5000). And I’m guessing it has considerably more corporate sponsorship from oil and mining companies (right?). Given the sorts of smaller, less-expensive cities ESA can afford, I’m not sure attendees would want to stick with one city every year. I think more people would get bored with Portland or Austin eventually than would look forward to their annual visit to a city they’d gotten to know well. But I’m just guessing, maybe I’m wrong. And as you say, perhaps this just means ESA should return repeatedly to a few cities rather than just one.

      I agree that, if the ESA could afford someplace like San Fran, NYC, or Boston, that it should consider returning to the same place every year.

      • The Moscone is extremely expensive. You’d need a *lot* of attendees, or other $$ source, to cover it. All the hotels and restaurants around there are also expensive. The city of course, is also a major earthquake hazard. I’d never want to see ESA hold the meeting there every year, especially given that AGU does.

        There are many medium size towns in nice locations, often with universities where the conf could be staged–Missoula, Fort Collins, Chico, Arcata, Bellingham–long list actually. Nicer towns, great field trip possibilities, cheaper lodging and etc. I’m very much against the big city thing, especially places like NYC, NO–no way I”m going to a conference held in places like those.

      • @Jim:

        Do the sorts of towns your suggesting have 4000-person conference centers? Honest question, I dunno. I would guess a few do, many don’t?

        ESA’s long been too big for a college or university to host without a massive conference center, and even big universities often lack conference centers big enough for ESA, sadly. For instance, Meg reports that there’s no way ESA can come to Ann Arbor, UMichigan doesn’t have a conference center nearly big enough. But this may be changing, another commenter suggested above that some universities are getting into the big conference game and building ESA-sized conference centers.

      • I can’t vouch for any particular location’s specific facilities. But the first ESA I attended was held in Davis (1989). At that time, Davis had no conference facility at all. The largest available room was the campus performing arts auditorium, which held maybe 1500-2000?, and that’s where the plenaries were. All other talks were held in various campus theatres, conference rooms and large-ish classrooms or lecture halls. Other than finding a room big enough for the plenaries, it all seems workable to me. You might not want a campus that’s so massive that the travel distances/times between locations is excessive (e.g. Michigan State!) but I think even that issue could be worked through with some planning. But I also don’t disagree that there might be some campuses where it just wouldn’t work real well, depending on facilities.

      • UM actually does have a facility big enough–the “Big House”. [At least that’s what they call it there in Ann Arbor; in Columbus we called it… well, we called it something else :)] Now, being early August, some spatial separations would be needed, e.g. running backs to the north end, plenaries at the south end, or similar. Not saying some planning wouldn’t be needed.

  11. I was there, and the heat did bother me – but then, I’d go for having every meeting in Reykjavik. I would like to see ESA meet jointly with CSEE in a large Canadian city. The joint CSEE-Evolution meeting in Ottawa was fantastic!

    In principle, I’m not big on the 5-city rotation. In practice, since I only make ESA every 4 years or so, I could go the rest of my career without repeating, so rotate away…

  12. A head’s up for one change that will make the Portland meeting a bit less appealing in terms of mobility — the “free rail zone” for downtown PDX ended essentially right after the ESA meeting in 2012. There may be some type of “convention pass” worked out, and getting a 7-day pass wouldn’t be too much of a hassle, but I’m sure we’ll all miss the ease of just hopping on the MAX to get over the river to downtown from the convention center.

    • Thanks for the tip. That is unfortunate. I suppose if we’re lucky the policy might change before the meeting, or as you say there might be some sort of convention pass worked out.

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