Monday, 14 December 2009

The trials and tribulations of attending huge conference

I am staying at the home of friends here in San Francisco; last night my hosts asked what time I needed to be at the conference this morning, and I looked at the handy-dandy schedule of posters and talks which I wanted to attend, saw that the first one I wanted to see started at 08:00, and reported that time to her. She replied that in that case I could take the bus with her in the morning, and she’d show me where to get off, since she works near the conference center. As it turned out, that bus got me to the center at two minutes till 8:00, which is probably not really early enough for one who wishes to attend things starting at 8:00, but I didn’t think there was any reason to stress about it, just go with the flow.

As I reached the conference center there was no mistaking I’d arrived, since there is a row of AGU banners outside. I went into the building, and the first thing I saw was three booths set up just inside of the entrance, one whose sign indicated that one could pick up one’s posters there, one whose sign I’ve forgotten, and one labeled “exhibitor’s registration”. There was a short line for that one, so even though I wasn’t certain if it was what I wanted (does exhibiting a poster at the poster session make one an “exhibitor”?), I stood in it nonetheless. Once I got up there I found out that my hesitation was well founded, “exhibitor” refers to businesses with booths, and I needed to go to the other building, across the street, for registration. Off I went, and soon entered a huge hall, with booths along the wall facing the door labeled “on site registration” and booths to the side labeled “pre-registration”. Guessing that “pre-registration” actually meant “people who have pre-registered”, I found the line for the correct section of the alphabet, and stood in it. Many minutes later it was my turn, but after much searching through her stack of cards she was unable to find my paperwork.

So then I went and stood in the “registration help” line. Many minutes later it was finally my turn and I explained that they couldn’t find my name. She looked in the computer and couldn’t find me there either. I explained that I remembered registering, that I was presenting a poster, and was a recipient of a student travel grant. She let me know that many students were having the same problem—that when we did the abstract submission we should also have gone to a separate part of the web page to register for the conference itself, but there was nothing on the web page prompting us to do so. However, I had memories of filling in forms on the web indicating that I wouldn’t be doing the conference dinner, that I am a vegetarian with an allergy to wine/vinegar, and so on. Assuming that this memory is both correct, and attached to this conference and not some other conference, I should be registered. So I briefly turned on my computer and checked my records, but of the e-mails I’d received from AGU I could find only the abstract submission and acceptance, and I quickly turned it off again, before the battery went flat. Sigh. I’d *thought* I’d registered, and certainly the web page at the time I did the abstract submission led me to believe I’d done all of the necessary paperwork to attend the conference. So, how to pay for it now? I couldn’t remember if I had sufficient cash in my Alaskan bank account to cover the cost of registering, and my “visa” card there is only a debit card, so I didn’t wish to risk using it. My European “master card” is a pre-pay card, and, again, I couldn’t remember how much cash remained on the card (I keep all of these records on my computer, not in my brain, but I didn’t wish to tax my inadequate computer battery by turning the computer on again without plugging it in). In addition I don’t really care to pay the fees associated with using a European card in the US. Therefore logic says to pick up the travel grant check, cash it, and use that cash to pay the registration fee. The lady at the registration desk didn’t know where the travel grant checks were located, but thought that it might be at the education booth just over there. Off I went to that booth, where there was no line at all (yay!). The nice lady there was sympathetic to my plight, and thought that the checks would be in the other building. However, without a badge showing I’d paid, she didn’t think I would be able to get into the room. So she called the person in charge of educational related stuff, who said that she’d come to me, and soon thereafter I had my travel grant check in hand. I found out where to find the bank upon which the check was written, and walked the few short block there, where, again, there was no line. The nice young man there cashed my check, and then told me that since I don’t have an account with them there would be a five dollar fee. Oddly enough, that announcement was enough to push me over the line in terms of stress levels, and I promptly burst into tears, which made the poor boy feel very bad for charging the fee. If I had been able to stick with plan A (take check with me to Alaska and deposit it into my account there), I would not have been charged the fee. However, not wanting to use my “credit” card, cash was my only option, so I let him charge me.

Back to the conference center I registered. While I asked nicely, they were not willing to let me register with the fee that would have applied on the day I did the abstract payment, even though I would have happily registered on that day, had there been any indication that I needed to do so separately. This entire process took over two full hours, but I am now properly registered, have my badge, and am free to attend lectures and poster sessions. However, I still need to put the finishing touches on my poster and print it, so it could be a while before I have any science to report from my conference attendance experience.

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