Callum Howard reports from EAS 2021 in Madeira

Callum Howard is a PhD student at the University of Stirling. This month, supported by a SAIC Travel Grant, he travelled to Madeira to present his studies, learn from others, and have some fun along the way. This is his report:

October 2021 began with the much-anticipated European Aquaculture Society (EAS) in Madeira, a sub-tropical archipelago off the coast of Africa. With EAS 2020 – and numerous other academic conferences – having been cancelled in the past year, there was much to look forward to. As soon as I left the airport into the 28°C sea air, I was happy to be away from the rain of Scotland but also nervous to be presenting at my first major conference.

Callum Howard presenting

A few practice sessions calmed my nerves and my presentation “The impact of thermal shocks during incubation on egg development and juvenile performance in diploid and triploid Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) siblings” went remarkably well. Just the experience of presenting alone was enough to justify the trip; I left feeling more confident, self-assured, and exuberant. I wanted to get back up there and present again, it didn’t matter the topic. I believe that my newfound confidence in my presenting ability, and appreciation of the nuances of public speaking such as speed, intonation, and projection, will aid me in my future career – be that academic or professional.

EAS 2021 was not all about me, however, and three days full of innovative, enlightening, and inspiring talks made up the programme. The hefty schedule book became by bible for the duration of the conference, and with so many amazing talks running concurrently it was difficult to decide which sessions to attend. I chose to attend sessions closely related to my PhD topic, namely selective breeding, genetics, and early development. Particularly standout for me were talks by John Buchanan on genome editing and the production of sterile fish, and Gareth Difford on genetic validation for phenotyping feed intake using X-rays. These are just two of countless talks that filled with me amazement at the ingenuity and creativity within the field of aquaculture. Much of what I learned is either directly applicable to my studies or opens new windows to novel methods, ways of thinking, and approaches to problem-solving that will inspire me think outside the box and question the dogma.

The conference was not all hard-thinking academic talks: the island of Madeira offered plenty of opportunity to unwind with cable-car trips into the mountains to visit botanic gardens, winery tours to sample the island’s namesake, and some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. Social events, such as the poster sessions and Presidents’ dinner, allowed for networking in a more relaxed environment. Socialising with fellow PhD and stage of life researchers was a joy and connecting with academics and industry opened numerous opportunities to pursue, even if I am not a natural ‘networker’. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to chat over a beer with people who half a year earlier were just names taking up a good chunk of my literature review bibliography.

My time in Madeira was a wonderful experience: I was able to improve myself as an academic and public speaker, and I made new friends and connections, opening the opportunity to collaborations or carrier opportunities in the future. If you are debating whether or not taking a week away from the desk or lab is worth it, I would say attending a conference similar to EAS is an opportunity you should not miss.

If you’re interested in a SAIC Travel Grant or other skills opportunities, have a look here.