Working as part of the executive secretariat (the organizational team) for the Lindau meetings, now I really appreciate just how few people make such a large meeting happen. As I’ve said before (or I’ve just written it so much for the Lindau meetings, I feel like I’ve said it before), this year’s meeting was the largest thus far–59 Laureates and over 650 young researchers from over 70 countries in attendance. That doesn’t include VIP guests [HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand and Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan (Federal Minster of Education and Research for Germany), among others]. So I’d guess there were over 1000 people who came to the little island of Lindau for this meeting.
The executive secretariat has about 7 people who are employed year-round. As the meeting approaches, interns and temporary employees are hired to help with the extra work load; more people come just for the meeting. I’d guess we had about 20 people on staff during the week of the meeting.
My project as an intern with the communications team was to produce a conference newspaper that reflected the events of the meeting. My boss, Christian, and I decided that we wanted the newspaper to reflect the spirit of the meeting, including articles about science, profiles of young researchers, and themes that usually come up in discussions betweeen Laureates and students (outreach work, responsibilities of scientists, life experiences).
I spent the two months leading up to the meeting researching, writing articles, and finding young researchers with neat stories to tell. I profiled a young professor in Nigeria, Dr. Emmanuel Unuabonah,who is working to use locally-obtained clay as an adsorbant to remove heavy metal ions such as lead from water. He hopes to be able to create a water purification system that can be used by people in the rural areas of Nigeria.
Here’s a photo of Dr. Unuabonah as I handed him the finished paper on Friday afternoon.
For another story, I wrote about young researchers who are balancing research with having a family. I also found a couple of graduate students who share the science they love with younger students through volunteering.
When the meeting started, I had prepared as much text as possible and given everything I had to the graphic designer, Andreas. I kept my schedule as free as possible so that I would have time to react to things that popped up. I didn’t quite realize that I would spend the whole week reacting, running around gathering photos, writing articles, and finishing interviews. Thankfully, Andreas is the calmest person ever and knows how to work under pressure. While I was running around like a mad woman trying to collect content so that he could do his part of the project, he took photos, brought me water, and reminded/forced me to take breaks.
Since Andreas felt that I was not getting paid enough for my work (as I was officially employed as an intern), he came up with his own way to reward me–writing “Praise Melissae” at the top of his to-do list. [UPDATE: I don’t want to seem that I’m quibbling about pay….I was ecstatic to have a paid internship and was compensated fairly.] Whenever I got frustrated by the situation, he gave me a healthy dose of praise. It sounds silly, but it really helped. I returned the praise, but he shrugged it off saying, “Well, I’m getting paid.” But I hope it helped him too. After the meeting was over, both Andreas and I could not stop telling people what a great job the other did. It was a fun collaboration.
Here’s a photo of us at the BBQ on Tuesday night. Andreas is in front of me in line.
Andreas and I getting some dinner. Photo by Christian Flemming.
It was hard work, but in the end, we were both proud of the newspaper. It is 32 pages long, filled with photos and text. The pdf of the paper is supposed to be placed on the meeting’s website and I’ll post a link here when it’s online.
Andreas and I were swarmed by students eager to get a copy as we handed out paper (literally hot off the presses) on Friday afternoon. It did its job. When I left the meeting in 2009, I wanted to share the experience of the meeting with the rest of the world. With this newspaper, I feel that I was able to do that this year.
My favorite thing about the newspaper was talking to scientists in a variety of fields, from parasitology to theoretical physics, from around the world and learning about their stories. There were more stories than I could write, and I hope some of the journalists who came to the meeting write about them.
Here’s an example: I met a student from Australia who has done field work in Antarctica, studying the trapped gases in ice cores to learn about the past composition of the atmosphere. He lived on the ice with 5 other people for 5 months. After the airplane dropped them off on the ice, they had to dig out their equipment and tents out of the snow. How cool is that!?!
I got some good on-the-job science writing experience in interviewing, writing, public relations, editing, and production of a news magazine. Holding the newspaper , I feel more comfortable calling myself a science writer. Before, I just had ideas about how best to communicate science. Now, I have a finished product that reflects some of those ideas. I’m super excited to start the science writing program at Santa Cruz, knowing a little more about what types of stories I like to write and skills that I need to improve.