Little notes about a great opportunity: Mission (Almost) Impossible

by Agnes Kittel, Budapest

There are some science journalists who work in the same time as researchers. Actually it is my situation.

As a researcher, I regularly attend meetings and conferences organised in the field of my research topic – depending on the most important subject in science, namely, money.

Although the smaller meetings, workshops may return profit immediately and so I always enjoy them, similarly others, attend big conferences, too and besides posters and talks in my research area, visit other posters and listen lectures in topics pretty far from my own one – and never regret it. They are also very useful and can help to think about my own questions in a different way.

If you are a science journalist, the situation is totally different. There is no need to concentrate on your own research problems, can select the topics sound the most exciting, can concentrate on others questions as usual and can share the joy of fellow researchers in case of their success –sincerely. It is, in some term, the freedom itself. You do not need to blame yourself spending time with listening lectures not in your subject, can contact people whom you could not meet at your meetings, can speak even with a Nobel laureate about several topics, moreover, by chance or on purpose, can meet other journalists and you can change your experiences, discuss difficulties etc. Of course, there is nothing without some work, so besides enjoying great lectures and discussions at the meeting and the sightseeing afterwards if you can, you have to make interviews and write an article.

As a lucky one, with the support of EUSJA, I could attend two very exciting conferences I could not have attended in other way. (I could not take the whole charges of them.)

The BioVision conference (more than 2.000 attendees), was held in Lyon, France in 2011. It was a great experience. Since this conference was initiated to help the dialogue between decision makers on several fields and researchers, following the lectures was not too difficult for me. I would not have missed the excellent lecture delivered by Nobel laureate Prof. Tsien, or the round table discussions, and although I attended many lectures and visited posters, too, I could also enjoy the social events – and excellent food. It took less than 3 days and when I got home, it was a piece of cake to select from the topics must be interesting for a wider readership.

Last November I could participate at the first European Science Foundation conference in Stresa, Italy, thank the EUSJA support. The conference title was “The neurobiology of emotion” and it contained sessions with lectures about pain, fear, anxiety, emotion and high level cognition. (Actually, some topic was not too far from our research topic.) The title sounded very interesting, important for the readership of popular science journals. We were no more than 160 including only 4 science journalists. I was the only one active researcher among them, however, I could understand their problem. These lectures were not for the wider audience as in Lyon, they were for the specialists. Even, researchers working with different approach could find some difficulties to understand each other. And if sometimes it was not easy for them, either, you can imagine the situation of poor science journalists. Of course, there were some exceptions, when everybody could follow almost everything, or when missed something, it was not disturbing. Among them the lecture given by Jaak Panksepp can be mentioned. It was the last lecture on the first day and besides it was an excellent talk, it could encourage us that hopefully every day we can understand something. It was a hard work, it was a challenge – however, the common problems and difficulties to understand as much as we wanted or would have liked, resulted vivid conversations among the participants especially during dinners. I think, they were very useful and seminal. Everybody was helpful, there was no prob to ask for an interview either during the meeting or afterward. We, science journalists, without solid background on this research field, all decided to read a lot about the topic before reading the papers for our audiance, and I think, this type of „extra work” is never useless.

I would like to go back and see more in this area of Italy. In spite November, we could enjoy sunny days- at least during coffee breaks, becasue before the sessions was too early or too late for enjoying sunshine. Almost everybody tried to walk a bit on the shore of the beautiful lake and I was not the only one who never missed shot a glance at the marvelous view before entered the lecture hall.

I thank EUSJA for the opportunity and thank Alessandra Piccolotto (ESF) for her organising work and hospitality, too.