This summer, I had the opportunity to present research I had done on the three rattlesnake species we find at Stone Canyon at the Biology of Pit Vipers (BOPV) conference in Rodeo New Mexico. Unlike most scientific conferences, which are usually held at universities or hotels, BOPV is hosted by the Chiricahua Desert Museum, and is very close to the Chiricahua mountains, giving excellent opprotunities to get outside or go road cruising when the day ends. Another unique aspect of BOPV is the lack of concurrent sessions, each talk was given one by one in the main room. As someone new to the field, I appreciated not being forced to choose between two talks I would want to go to, and for the chance to go to talks outside the focus of my research. There is too much to really summarize, but having never studied up much on topics such as snake phylogenetics and venom composition I learned quite a bit about these and other subfields in just two days.
I presented my research on the last day of the conference, which turned out to be a blessing and curse. I'd only been to a few conferences before this one, and never one as focused on my research area as this. Consequently, I had some anxiety about my own presentation throughout most of the conference, but also had a bunch of time to compose myself and practice my talk after seeing all the amazing research presented throughout the first days.
Finally the day came for me to present. Everyone at the conference was very friendly and when I presented right after lunch I felt much more comfortable on stage than I had expected to be. Afterwards, I was surprised at how many questions people had. Urban ecology, and of course biology in general, is very complicated and the activity of rattlesnakes on a given night is subject to a wide variety of influences. People wanted to know, for example if I had looked at the effect of light on nightly rattlesnake abundance (I have not, but my labmate John has), what we knew about changes in the prey base, or people's attitudes towards these snakes. Of course I often did not have a satisfying answer to all these questions, but I answered the best I could (which was often a big fat "I dont know"), and left the stage with a few more ideas about where to take my research. I not only felt glad to be finished with the talk I had been so worried about, but proud of the job I had done and thankful for the chance to attend such a informative conference.