Hitting the Oregon Trail

As association conferences go, the University Research Magazine Association’s annual meeting is at the “exceptionally good” end of the spectrum.

I think the winning formula may be an international mix of longtime colleagues who share advice and resources throughout the year; an influx of new members who keep us on our toes with fresh ideas; and a rotating conference location, allowing us to take turns hosting and our showing off our parent institutions and publications.

For instance, Penn State took its turn in 2008. (Acclaimed PSU geologist and climate change researcher Richard Alley gave a memorable presentation.)  We’ve been hosted in Maryland by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, we’ve met up in Evanston and Chicago (check out the blog post!) when our meeting was sponsored by Fermilab and Northwestern University, and in Binghamton, New York last year, just to name a few.

Some URMA members (including this author, third from right) pose in front of the Corning Museum of Glass which we toured as part of our 2013 conference.

This year, our group — self-described as “the most powerful research magazine association on the planet” — hit the Oregon trail for #URMA2014.

I borrowed this image, which cleverly announces our conference hashtag, from URMA's facebook page. I suspect "tweeter par excellence" Rachel Coker (and our incoming URMA pres) is responsible!
I borrowed this image, which cleverly announces our conference hashtag, from URMA’s facebook page. I suspect “tweeter par excellence” Rachel Coker (and our incoming URMA pres) is responsible!

Oregon State University’s News & Research Communications Team (the folks behind Terra Magazine) were our hosts, led by the warm and welcoming Nick Houtman, Lee Sherman and other staff. Well-deserved kudos to them for an excellent program of speakers, and tours of the Corvallis campus and nearby research facilities, including the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Fleet. 

The view as we crossed the Yaquina Bay Bridge, an arch bridge that spans Yaquina Bay south of Newport, Oregon.
The view as we crossed the Yaquina Bay Bridge, an arch bridge that spans Yaquina Bay south of Newport, Oregon.

When the conference got rolling, we delved into design and editorial practices in joint sessions with the University and College Designers Association, explored narrative storytelling techniques and shared social media tips.

Some of the session highlights for me: Joe Kays from the University of Florida describing their efforts to train scientists to be better communicators. There were many insights shared, as well as many laughs. This classic “what not to do” Turbo Encabulator video got laughs from a room full of science communicators.

Conservation photojournalist Morgan Heim’s presentation about the techniques and guiding principles of her work was terrific, and I loved Alisa Machalek’s talk about the process of creating the exhibit Life: Magnified, scientific images showing cells and other scenes of life magnified by as much as 50,000 times. The exhibit is on display at Washington Dulles International Airport’s Gateway Gallery from June through November 2014, and the images can also be viewed in an online gallery. 

Last but not least, I enjoyed the panel discussion with Penn State’s own Dave Pacchioli, along with Sue DiBella, Laura Perry and Andrea Gibson. They discussed the importance (and occasional pitfalls) of strategic planning in research communications.

Dave Pacchioli, incoming Director of Research Communications, makes a point about planning.

When we weren’t  wrestling with words and design, we took some pretty darn cool field trips, including:

one of the world’s largest tsunami test basins


…and a trip to the historic Oregon Oyster Farms outside Newport where owner Xin Liu explained the challenges and joys of growing and harvesting several millions of oysters that will eventually make their way to restaurants all over the world.

Owner and manager, Xin Liu, explaining different techniques of seeding and growing oysters, including on a rope such as this.

If you’ve ever eaten oysters in New York City’s famous Grand Central Oyster Bar, you’ve eaten Oregon Oyster Farms’ finest, Liu explained, adding that the restaurant has a standing order for his Kumamoto and Pacific oysters. 

The world was our oyster. Samples (cooked, to be on the safe side) were offered and most of the URMANs helped themselves to a very delicious Yaquina Bay oyster.

Our field trip day ended with a tour and dinner at Airlie Winery, a sublime spot in the coastal mountain range on the western edge of the Willamette Valley…a spot that, as it turns out, grapes appreciate very much. And so did we.  Owner Mary Olson introduced us to her award-winning wines…


…and then gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery


…and then fed us a meal that showed off some of the region’s high-quality local foods, including berries and cheeses. 


Hats off to the OSU team for making URMA 2014 so memorable. The question still remains…where will the most powerful research magazine association on the planet gather next year? Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply