June 1, 2015

The 54th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Zoologists 2015: An Excellent Meeting for Parasitism, Immunology and Environment

Article by Dr. Patrick Hanington (University of Alberta)

Below are some thoughts on the 54th annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Zoologists (CSZ) that was held at the University of Calgary. Specifically, I’ll speak to my impressions of the Parasitism, Immunology and Environment (PIE) section.

I’ve been a member of CSZ since 2005, when I attended my first meeting which was held at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. At the time, I participated under the Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology (CPB) section, where most of the other immunologists would place their presentations. Although I was a joint member of CPB and Parasitology (PAR), I didn’t have much interactions with the PAR group until officially ‘switching sides’ at the 50th anniversary meeting held at the University of Ottawa. It was at this meeting in 2011, that the PAR section was rebranded as PIE, marking an important event that seems to have successfully brought the disciplines of immunology and environmental research together with parasitology under one banner. During the PIE lunch at the 2015 meeting, the Chair, Dan Barreda, announced that there were 101 people registered as PIE members, a significant increase since 2011.

I entered into CSZ-Calgary with optimism. I was excited by the diversity of abstracts submitted to PIE, the number and promising quality of talks being given during the 5 PIE sessions, and by the fact that I had managed to bring my entire research group to CSZ with the assistance of travel support from HPI. Somewhere in amongst all of this excitement, I also had to ready myself for my own symposium talk, which was more challenging than normal because all of the students from the lab were presenting their own research. Ultimately, early on the day the meeting started, the lab and I drove down to Calgary together eager to kick off what would end up being the best CSZ I have attended yet.

Since the research that is carried out in my lab spans across all of the identified disciplines in the PIE acronym, I enjoy listening to the diverse array of subjects that appear within a single PIE session. From the first session on, I was continuously impressed with the quality of the student talks, and the research that was presented within. I can not recall a CSZ meeting that I have attended that had such a consistent level of excellence. It was great to see all of the different types of PIE-related research going on across Canada, and I found that in parallel to the exceptional presentations were stimulating discussions taking place outside of the symposium rooms. It was encouraging to witness dynamic conversations taking place between researchers representing the sometimes disparate disciplines of PIE. Under other circumstances it would be rare to see someone who works on parasite genomics, interact with and provide suggestions to, a fish immunologist after watching their talk. However, the PIE sessions at CSZ-Calgary managed to accomplish this with seemingly few hiccups. Many people that attended the first PIE session were regularly seen at all other PIE sessions.

At CSZ, great science is often followed by a beer or two at the recommended pubs, and CSZ-Calgary didn’t disappoint on this front. Noteworthy, was the pub night organized by Brad van Paridon at Jamisons Pub. My understanding was that this event started as a way to ensure that Cam Goater and myself would be able to chat – we’ve attended many of the same meetings over the years, but never managed to sit down to talk. While Cam and I did get a chance to chat, the event became a PIE-night-out that not only facilitated meeting fellow PIE members, but also introduced PIE members not familiar with the Calgary HPI to the group. Anyone still not familiar with HPI after the Jamison’s night out, were introduced at the PIE symposium the following day. Along with myself, a number of HPI PIs and students gave talks that touched on all the disciplines of PIE.

During the PIE session lunch discussions revolved around the formation of the Mick Burt award, and streamlining of the PIE section constitution. From the lunch, I took away that the PIE section was continuing to grow and solidify the membership base. It was encouraging to see a number of new faces at the lunch, both PIs and students, and the fact that two people threw their names into the hat for the future chair position was great to see.

The meeting wrapped up with the banquet, where Al Shostak was recognized for his service to the society – much deserved. In addition, both Michelle Gordy and Brad van Paridon were recognized by the PIE section for their outstanding talks, co-winning the Murray Fallis Prize. As is usual with CSZ banquets, a quiet dinner transformed into a dance, which lasted until the venue closed, upon which time the majority of people migrated to the dorm common room to continue the party until the wee hours of the morning.

In my opinion, the Calgary 2015 CSZ meeting was a great success from the PIE perspective. The bar has been set for future meetings, and I’m looking forward to seeing new heights reached as the PIE section continues to grow and develop. Of course, I couldn’t write a commentary on this meeting without acknowledging the students from my lab; they made me proud and continue to impress me with their interest and engagement in their chosen areas of research.