Although I’ve only been away for two years, I miss the Bay Area. Our time there was short, but enough to make good friends and memories, meet nice people, and do exciting science. So when I saw that the next ACS conference was in San Francisco, I applied for some funding, and was fortunate to get some, enabling my trip there.
After transiting in Uppsala for four days, I boarded the plane to SF, via Chicago. Transit time in Chicago was too short to leave the airport and do any kind of exploring, but it also meant arriving in SF faster. I had kept my Lyft and Uber apps on my phone, which came in handy when I wanted to get to downtown from the airport. It was all very easy, and less than half an hour after arrival, I had checked into the hotel. Since I was too tired to do anything but sleep, I just immediately went to bed. When I woke up a few hours later, my eyes and throat were itching, suggesting an allergic reaction. I contacted hotels.com to see if it was possible to switch rooms, but was told to contact the front desk directly. However, all rooms at the hotel were fully booked, so I cancelled the rest of the nights and booked with the hotel across the street, the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel. Since I booked last-minute during a conference week, it all came out a bit more expensive than I had previously budgeted. But at least I knew I’d survive the night, as we stayed in the same hotel the last time we were in SF with the family.
I stayed in the lobby until morning, and then brought my luggage to the Clift before going for breakfast and walking over to the Moscone Convention Center, which hosted the conference. The queue for registration was really long, and I missed the first talk I had planned to attend. So did most of the people there. Pity the speakers on the first session throughout the conference! But after registration I was able to listen into a couple of sessions before it became lunchtime and I decided to go back to the hotel for a proper check-in, some lunch, and a short nap. Although I wasn’t really jetlagged anymore from the time difference, I had only slept 3-4 hours at the previous hotel, so I wanted to get into Bay Area time as soon as possible and not ruin the night sleep by sleeping too much in the day.
The next day I spent some time preparing my presentation since I had an oral presentation scheduled for the next morning. Although I had created the presentation before going on summer vacation, it took longer than I thought to update it with the newest results. But since I had dedicated the day for it, it turned out well. Previously, I had always tried to fill every day of a conference to maximize the learning outcome. But this time I realized it would be better to pick out the presentations that I was really interested in, and leave gaps in my schedule for meetings and time for exploring and shopping. After all, going to talks that are not interesting or related to my own research is a waste of my time, as I find that my attention starts to wander pretty quickly if the presenter doesn’t catch my attention. In the end, I think this was a good strategy, since I was able to focus during the sessions I attended, and gain a better understanding of the topics they discusses.
In the evening I had planned to meet a friend and collaborator from my postdoc days, and we met at the Cheesecake factory, a cozy place down the street from the hotel. It was very nice to reminisce about our postdoc days at Stanford, and talk about what we were currently doing, in terms of research and fields, and where we thought we were going, professionally. I think it’s rare to find people in similar places in their careers as myself, so finding the possibility to talk to them and share experiences and thoughts is something I really enjoy.
The next morning I presented my students’ and my work on beta-lactamases and was able to attract the attention of a local startup company. We met for dinner to discuss the project, which was very interesting. But in the end we decided to follow up after the new year, as I will be very busy with teaching in the next couple of months, and their project needs to mature before I can start working on it, if that is what we will agree on. Nonetheless, I have noticed that my oral presentations at ACS conferences often result in some kind of job offer or discussions on collaborations, which is a good enough reason to attend it regularly in the future as well. ACS conferences just seem to attract the right kind of people for networking within my field of research, but also with people from adjacent fields, which are the kind of people I’d rarely find an opportunity to meet in other settings.
During my presentation, I was pleasantly surprised to see most of the Boxer group in attendance, the lab where I spent my postdoc. It was nice seeing them all again, and also the new people in the group. What I missed the most about Stanford in the past two years is the people I interacted with there, and the scientific discussions we had almost daily. But after the presentation we all went out for lunch together, and apart from talking about the people who have left the lab, we had time to briefly discuss some science. Although it was mostly teasers for future discussions, we followed up on them a couple of days later, when I visited Stanford again to talk about my research progress with my former PI. My visit coincided with a farewell of one of the group members, and joining it made me feel like time had rewound at least two years. It was a really nice feeling, and I wish it could have lasted longer! The visit ended with a brief visit to the Stanford shopping mall and dinner at the Palo Alto train station while waiting for the train back to SF. Although it was a full day, it was very enjoyable and something I look back to as another pleasant memory. Although I know I can always go back for another visit, I don’t think it will be the same again, as some of the senior members of the lab are about to or recently left, for other opportunities. I wish them all the best of luck in their lives and careers, and I hope that we’ll meet again, one way or the other, in the future!