Qian and I just spent two amazing weeks in China, primarily to attend the XIX International Botanical Congress (IBC 2017) in Shenzhen (pictured above).
Before heading out to the IBC, I was very lucky and honoured to be invited by Qian's former supervisor, Prof. Xiao-Yong Chen (pictured on the left), to visit East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai, give a seminar talk on eFLOWER, and give a course on ancestral state reconstruction to over 90 graduate students during the Summer School Methods in Biodiversity: Advances and Frontiers organized by Jian Zhang and Guochun Shen.
The course (below, left) was a fantastic experience and Qian's introduction to phylogenetics was particularly appreciated by the students. It was also a unique opportunity to discover Chinese academia and campus life and try out delicious local food all week!
At the end of the week, we took a short field trip to the beautiful Tianmu Mountain (天目山), a three-hour drive west of Shanghai. We ate more delicious local food and hiked to the top of the mountain, checking out the local flora, including the majestic Cryptomeria trees (related to the giant sequoias of California), which, I only learned later, might not be so native after all :-(
We then finally headed to the IBC in the futuristic city of Shenzhen. This turned out to be the largest International Botanical Congress ever, with nearly 7000 participants from 77 countries, 1440 talks, 212 symposia, 3519 abstracts, and up to 28 concurrent sessions!! It would be impossible to describe the whole experience in a short blog post, and others have done it very well already, but this congress felt very special and we all had the feeling of witnessing something unique. The organization was, in general, outstanding, thanks to a massive investment by the local government, the work of over 1000 volunteers during the congress, and of course all of the hard work from the organization committee! Everything was and felt gigantic, from the exhibition hall to the welcome ceremony, the plenary room, and the gala dinner (photos below).
Scientifically, the IBC was very good. Susana Magallón and I had organized a symposium on Key questions on angiosperm macroevolution: where do we stand, and where are we heading now?, which took place on the first day and seems to have received very positive feedback, thanks to all the great speakers who accepted our invitation. Research by current and former members of our group and collaborators was also very well represented at the IBC, including talks by Julien Massoni, Renske Onstein, and Qian Zhang, and two talks on eFLOWER by Jürg Schönenberger and myself. We also managed to organize Qian's second PhD committee during the IBC, taking advantage of the presence of everyone involved (picture below).
The city of Shenzhen itself turned out to be really interesting, a sort of ultra-modern and futuristic version of China, with nonstop building at all times of day and night.
Last, as always, these conferences are especially important for all the social interactions that take place in between talks, during coffee breaks, lunches, and dinners. I particularly like the IBCs for this, as these are truly international meetings, where I get to see old and new friends from all around the World, including Latin America, North America, Europe, Australasia, and now China.