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ESA 2011 Meeting, Austin TX

Posted in UC3

Earlier this month, I attended the Ecological Society of America’s 2011 Meeting, held in Austin TX. I joined thousands of Ecologists in thinking, discussing, networking, and sweating in the 100+ temperatures.  Over the next couple of blog posts, I will share some of my insights based on my interactions at the meeting.

The goal of my attending the meeting was to start collecting software requirements for the Excel add-in. For this project, we are specifically interested in talking to Earth, environmental, and natural scientists; ecologists seemed like a great group with which to begin.

I mostly ambushed scientists who were sitting alone outside of meeting rooms to find my interview participants.  I also took advantage of the afternoon poster sessions when scientists were wandering about aimlessly with a beer in their hand.  I asked them about themselves and their research, their use of Excel, and how they used Excel with other programs.  Check back here for a report on the take-away lessons. For this post, I give you the top three things learned at ESA:

Lesson 1: (Almost) all ecologists use Excel

Out of the 55 people I interviewed, only two said they don’t use Excel. Both of these guys were hard-core Linux users (in my experience, notorious anti-Microsoft folks).

Lesson 2: (Almost) all ecologists are embarrassed by how they use Excel

Some were embarrassed that they use the program at all; this is likely because the tradition of Ecology is to be a bit quirky, anti-corporate, and generally off the grid. However a lot of this embarrassment was that many of the ecologists I spoke with had rather ugly spreadsheets: multiple tables in a single sheet, poor organizational practices, bad file naming strategies, etc etc. Luckily hope is on the way in the form of our open-source Excel add-in!

Lesson 3: (Almost) all ecologists LOVE sporty sandals

Conferences are like airports and theme parks: there is an endless supply of great people-watching. One of the most consistent observations about ESA attendees: sporty sandals.  Yes, there were exceptions, but far and away most shoes fell into one of the categories below.

Most popular sandal: the Chaco. Heinous tan lines. From


BIrkenstocks: the classic choice for the old-school Ecologist. From


Classic Tevas
Tevas: a nice comprpmise between Birks and Chacos. From


Teva hiking sandal
Teva hiking sandals: when you can’t decide between a sandal and a shoe. From


Flip Flops
The versatile tan flip flop. Goes with everything and can dress up or down. From

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