By Caitlin Saucier, CDC/APHL Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory Training Fellow, State Laboratories Division, Hawaii Department of Health
I recently attended the 2012 APHL Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington. Public health professionals from all over the United States gathered for four days to learn about new issues, share their ideas, and build partnerships. Throughout the conference, I enjoyed seeing people from laboratories both large and small come together based on our common interest in advocating for public health laboratory science.
We live in an amazing time when information exchange happens at the click of a mouse. We can collaborate with people from around the globe to solve problems and learn from each other. One speaker, Anita Verna Crofts of the University of Washington, was a panelist for the session titled Opportunities and Challenges: An Orientation to APHL’s International Work. She mentioned that the entire panel had been arranged by email alone. With our increasing ability to use technology to communicate about science from every part of the world, it’s important to stop and remember why we attend conferences in the first place. While online communication is a quick and easy way to keep in touch both personally and professionally, it’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Many people even believe that the enormous surge in the use of technology for communication has made us lonelier as we increasingly choose the quickest method possible to get in touch.
Attending the APHL Annual Meeting gave me the opportunity to spend time with my fellow fellows and meet many colleagues whom I knew only through email. Making time for communicating with your colleagues in person gives you the chance to discuss the common challenges and successes of your career, arrange for collaborations, and enjoy the company of friends. During the aforementioned panel discussion, Anita Verna Crofts humorously described the challenges of bridging cultural differences while working abroad. She emphasized that sometimes the best solution is simply to “get around the table and eat together” to cement a partnership. The same advice should be taken for our friendships and professional connections closer to home. Sometimes the best way to improve the way we work is to take some time away from the laboratory to seek new opinions and renew our bonds with other scientists. No matter how busy you are, the importance of sharing a meal, a drink, and some laughter shouldn’t be forgotten. Personally, I’ll be headed back to Hawaii with a fresh perspective about the state of public health and an increased sense of camaraderie with colleagues from all over the country.