The Student Experience at BEMS

June 29th, 2007 by Potato

I shocked the BEMs community at the conference this year when I grabbed the microphone after the student awards ceremony so that we could bestow a gift on Shin, who was so helpful in guiding us around, getting us together, and keeping us happy. They finally tracked me down, and asked for a “one paragraph” description of the student experience at BEMs this year, and what lead to that unexpected gift ceremony for the newsletter. Here’s what I sent them:

We had received a few emails from the organizers in advance of the conference that an attempt would be made this year to have some sort of student function during or before the conference. I know two requests came through and nobody from my lab volunteered. Luckily, Shin, Alice, and Marylene stepped up and organized the small, low-key student meet after the main opening wine and cheese.

Each student took a minute to introduce themselves to the group, and then we played a few hands of poker for poster pushpins as we got acquainted. All too soon, a few people had to leave, and we thought we had to leave the room we were in, so the rest of us headed off to find a pub. With the help of some locals, Shin found us the “Apres” bar, close to the Hotel Excel Tokyu.

After getting to know each other outside the bounds of the conference, the students made more of an effort to get together during the evenings and downtime that we had. We all went on a walking tour of Kanazawa, mostly lead by Shin (who could read the tourist placards, written in Japanese), and Julia (who had actually read her guide book on the city).

When the social event ended early and was found to be lacking in the dancefloor department, again the students (and the registration desk girls) headed off to the “Apres” to stretch the evening out.

Of course, _the_ thing to do while in Japan is karaoke. Shin went above and beyond and spent a good portion of his time (possibly over an hour, depending on who’s telling the story) calling a bunch of different karaoke places to find one that would be good for us (private booths, multilingual song selection, good price, and walking distance). At the end of the conference, to thank him for all his help in guiding us around the city (which, it should be noted, is not even his city: he’s from Kyoto), we each chipped in 100 Yen to buy him a shirt. While I jumped up to the mic after the student awards were presented to make Shin’s give “official”, it was Dave (and Alice) who thought of giving him a gift, organized the money collection, and went out to shop for it.

All in all, it was one of the more enjoyable conferences largely because of all the fun student interaction. Typically at these events people stick close to their research groups or countrymen. Of course, there is mingling and discussions take place with all kinds of people, but those invisible connections and groupings can always be seen, especially when it comes around to dinner time. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this kind of interaction with students from all over the world, regardless of research topic or supervisor.

“Sorry boss,” one might say “but we can have dinner together any time back home.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to include all the students in the largely unplanned events. But that leaves us with room to grow for San Diego!

[Note that it ended up being slightly longer than one paragraph]

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