Monday, December 9, 2013

Some patience required

In the morning I don't let myself sleep too heavily after the call to prayer at 5:30. This morning is the start of the conference, and it's a bit away from the tramway so I need to plan enough time to find it. I'm scheduled as the second speaker, so I can't be very late. Good thing, too, because the tram is much slower than I thought it would be. They don't run very often, and when they do they are packed. It takes several tries to get the doors closed, and some people are left on the quay (or are they waiting for the other line?). We are squeezed in too tight to fall over with lurching to a stop. 
It's a good half mile to the conference site from the tram stop, but it's straight up the road, and passers-by assure me it's just a bit farther. I get there on time, which is really plenty plenty of time because this is Northern Africa and nothing, but nothing starts on time. Well, the train to Casa was on time. But nothing else is.
My host Abdel is very happy to see me. I forgot to send him a message before leaving Clermont telling him that I don't want to stay in the "5-star" hotel that's reserved for me, but in a small & intimate riad across the river.

Vignettes from the conference that show just how much they really need people to come and teach.
- A venerable professor stood up and went over some of the basics, such as the structure of nucleotides and an approximation of the genetic code. In explaining mutations, he was careful to specify that mutations on the X or Y chromosome would be passed on to any children (misunderstanding that is doesn't matter which chromosome is mutated, but that only mutations in germ cells can be passed on to progeny).
- A man sitting in the row behind me congratulated me on my talk, then wanted to know about the use of ethidium bromide. That molecule has been banned from the lab for many years now, and soon even its safer derivatives will be obsolete.
- A junior collaborator from Marrakech brought dozens of frozen tubes of blood with him for me to take home & analyse. Ehhh, even if I get through customs uncaught (and woe to me if I am caught - the likelihood of being caught is small, but the consequence large), I'm not going straight home and there's no way to keep them frozen in my Paris hotel. Not to mention the next three days I'm in Rabat - out of the question to ask my riad hostess to store them in her kitchen freezer!
- The meeting venue has big, comfortable armchairs, good light and sound, perfectly modern computer connections for the presentations. And yet, in the women's room, 2 stalls of 5 are working, all pit toilets, the one I tried has no paper, the floor a lake of water, and not even a hook for your purse or coat. Good luck staying clean there.
- Hey-O! Are any of the speakers actually here at the conference? The parallel sessions were supposed to be 4 in each room, but have been collapsed to a single session, and finally only 2 speakers can be found. At the plenary session following, the first speaker is absent. Well, it is one way to make up time for being over-long at the pauses.
- The auditorium is mostly empty for the science talks, but oh, the crowd of suits & ties waiting in the hall for the Grand Welcome Ceremony, complete with Ministers and
Various Dignitaries.
- Schedule? We don't need no stinking Schedule!  Stuff happens when it happens.
- Friday after lunch the hour of parallel sessions is again collapsed into one session. The announcement is for 10 minutes each, which is interesting given there are 11 talks on the list plus one that was skipped yesterday. 12 10-minute talks in an hour must be counting on a lot of attrition!
- When presenting a graph: PLEASE tell us which curve is which. And labelling the axes would be a definite plus.
- "BRCA genes: several mutations have been reported." Um, like tens of thousands.

So alright, it's not what you'd expect from an international conference in the US or Europe. It's important to keep coming to these things, and presenting things professionally and taking time to discuss with people at the breaks, because eventually the level will rise. Eventually, there will be a good give & take. Patience...!

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