The SSSA (and CSSA and ASA) annual meeting last week in Long Beach, CA, was awesome! Soil science, and particularly soil ecology, inhabits kind of a weird space, where it is spread across a lot of potentially relevant major meetings (there are substantial soils contingents at the AGU and ESA meetings, not to mention the Soil Ecology Society, the new Global Soil Biodiversity meeting, and the confusingly named Soil Organic Matter workshop and Soil Organic Matter symposium). It’s nice to see that the SSSA is holding strong as a place where excellent soils research is being presented.
Of course, it faced the usual issues that any big meeting (4,205 attendees) does – simultaneous interesting sessions and an enormous program make it impossible to optimize your schedule, you never know quite who will be there each year, and if you see someone you want to speak with, you need to do so immediately, because you may not see them again! However, I really enjoyed this meeting for a number of reasons:
1. I got to meet or reconnect with lots of people whose work I respect. Diana Wall and Josh Schimel both gave invited lectures (Nyle C. Brady Frontiers of Soil Science Lectureship and Francis E. Clark Distinguished Lectureship on Soil Biology, respectively), I finally met rhizosphere priming kingpin Weixing Cheng, and I met Kate Scow, and will hopefully come out and check out the work her lab does at UC Davis, since I’m so close by now. It was also awesome to see a lot of people from Cornell, having just left there a few months ago, and to talk with a number of other Canadian researchers, including Derek Lynch from NSAC-Dalhousie and Ed Gregorich at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
2. I caught a “random talk” (i.e., from a division that I don’t always follow, that I sat in on because it sounded interesting) that was so great. Dan Binkley‘s “Ode to the O Horizon” had it all – controversy, insights, data, and poetry. I think it’s great when people make controversial statements at meetings – they are a great place to have those discussions and to provoke debate, and it makes the meeting more interesting and productive.
3. Talks and discussions throughout the week ignited some really interesting ideas for me. In particular, my thinking about soil microbial diversity (value thereof, sources of, drivers and meaning of changes therein) has been stimulated and shifted. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how I want to poise my own future research, from the specific questions I want to answer, to how I can ensure my work directly impacts the issues I care about, and was inspired by a number of researchers who have developed programs that seem to be addressing exciting questions while also being directly relevant.
4. I was honoured to be awarded the Francis and Evelyn Clark Soil Biology Scholarship, along with co-awardee Mike Van Nuland. It was especially awesome that my Ph.D. advisor, Johannes Lehmann, was also at the SSSA awards breakfast, to receive the International Soil Science Award and to be named an SSSA fellow – an honour bestowed upon only <0.3% of the SSSA membership each year!
5. I won a Globe Professional Soil Colour Book in a drawing! I was super excited. I’ve wanted a soil colour ID book for a long time, but Munsell had totally cornered the market with a guide that is too expensive to ask for as a birthday present (my primary mechanism for acquiring new things), and also refuse to sell replacement pages for most colours when you inevitably get mud all over them and the colour panels fall off in the field.
Overall, it was a great meeting, and driving down the California coast was a great way to start the week out. I’ll be looking forward to future meetings.