Wow, am I knackered!! This past week has been inspiring, intense, and exhausting.
I had the opportunity to go attend the European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour this past week in Tallinn, Estonia. While I can (and will) wax poetic about how beautiful the city, how excellent the food, and how interesting the travel experience, I thought I would first spend a few moments to share about this conference experience.
I learned so much – encountered new ideas and also got nuanced insight and new perspectives into particularities of long-standing issues.
The way I can best describe the caliber of speakers is that if you picture your thesis reference list, and there are a collection of names that appear on every important paper in your field. That is exactly who was presenting at this conference.
In addition to hearing from many of the leading experts in the field of suicide, I also had the opportunity to present my own research.
I was quite intimidated, considering both the caliber and expertise of all the people in the room, but also this was the first time I was presenting this information, and I wanted to make sure I spent adequate time explaining the unusual methodology and results in a way that is understandable.
Overall, I am very pleased with my presentation, however, I did choose a less-than-optimal route to get there. It seemed like such a good idea to grab dinner after the cocktail mixer with some of my newfound conference buddies, but that turned into quite the night on the town! Needless-to-say, I felt slightly less than optimal when I woke up the next morning for my big, scary presentation. HOWEVER, it might have been exactly this reason that I was very focused and somewhat engaging in my presentation. I dug back into the lesson I learned many years ago when working at a provincial park, where I gave talks to children about trees and birds. After a doozy of a staff party, I would show up in the morning, feeling a little bit guilty because I didn’t want my ill-advised choices to negatively affect the experience of 8 year old Johnny who just wants to learn about salamanders. So it was precisely those days that I was extra fun, extra funny, and extra on-the-ball, to assuage my guilt for the night before. I think that is the only rational explanation for how the presentation went well. I got some really positive comments following it and it has spurred me on to make sure this gets finished (and published)!
Speaking of which, being surrounded by people that were passionately engrossed with the subject matter has the wheels churning in my head. As is the case when you are looking at finishing up something pretty major: school (perhaps) and employment (as my contract is nearly up), I have to give some real thought about “what I want to do with my one big beautiful life.” It is in environments like this in which I feel like doing a PhD is actually a good idea – this subject is infinitely interesting and I can’t imagine when you will know enough about suicide to stop having questions. So please share your thoughts! When it is all said and done, is the balance of working for a PhD good, bad, or ugly?
Most of the time when I talk about my research, people seem to think it is very morbid and sad, and, yes, there is clearly a somber element to working in suicidology. However, the wonderful thing was to be surrounded by people who were passionately engrossed in the subject, so you could have in-depth conversations about issues that you think about, but that are quite foreign to others who may be working in a different field of epidemiology. For one of the first times since I have started working in this field, I felt like I was a part of something – a community of people, and that I was not alone puzzling through the particulars of the issues around suicide. In this room, nobody asks “why would you want to study suicide” because everyone, for a variety of reasons has joined this community and actively moves the research to new frontiers with each year. But more than being a community of individuals with shared interests, the participants I met this week were among the warmest, most caring, and genuine people. Within a few short days, I felt already connected to those that I met.
And isn’t that what it is all about? Feeling like you belong, that you are a part of a community, and that you are connected to those around you? Well, that and being able to stand upright and make real words at the same time while presenting. Considering the total score on this was 3 out of 3, I feel fairly confident in the finding that this conference was phenomenal.