New Orleans Journal, SICB Conference


NEW ORLEANS – Saturday started out slower than the previous days, which allowed me to read the Wall Street Journal’s weekend paper and have a few cups of coffee. It was nice to be able to have a few moments to gather my thoughts, even though they had been scrambled after trying to order a simple latte, which had to be remade twice.

After reading the newspaper, I left to go to the conference around 9 a.m. and began with going to a few presentations. I even had time to explore a few of the poster presentations.

While exploring I walked past a man who was reciting what he was going to say to people as they came up to his poster, which was scheduled for later that day. He was sweating bullets.

I turned around and walked back up to his poster and asked him to explain the poster to me, with the exception that he needed to make it simple enough for me to understand it. He said that he could probably do that, but I was the first person to ask about his poster. He was six-hours early for the presentation period.

We had a great time talking about his poster, which was over reproductive effects of phytoestrogens in Aiptasia Pallida anemones. To put that in simple terms, he was studying diseases that could affect a certain organism’s reproduction cycle.

So I thanked him for his time and went on to other posters, stopping by one individual who had come up to my poster on Thursday and had given me a hard time.

Her name was Helen Gandler, a student from Bowdoin College, (It is not boating college, which is what I thought they were saying) and she had a poster about lobsters.

I asked her to explain the entire poster to me in common terms, since the title of her poster was: Intrinsic peptidergic modulation in the lobster cardiac neuromuscular system: a transcriptomic analysis of peptides and peptide receptors in cardiac ganglion and muscle.

She said that the simple way to think of it is that she was studying the effects of peptides on a lobster’s heart and why they make it beat slower or faster.

It was great to talk with her, even though she was extremely nervous as I asked her questions, with her lab team and professor standing there. The information was also very pertinent with the lobster population continuing to decrease, Gandler said.

We talked for almost 20-minutes and then others became interested in the poster, so I moseyed on to other posters.

Olivia Niedzialek, from Bard College, a member of our trip to Greece and Turkey, was also presenting today and I captured several photos of her doing what she called “a dream come true.” She had a great poster and had a lot of people ask her questions on it.

Olivia Niedzialek, from Bard College, presents her poster during the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference. [PHOTO BY, ERIECH TAPIA]
The afternoon seemed to go by extremely quickly. We began talking about dinner, so I suggested Italian.

We met up at 6:15 p.m., but I had called every Italian restaurant in the French Quarter and they all had two-hour waits for our seven-member group, so I resorted to my tried and true method, ask the locals.

I walked up to the concourse desk, and one of the ladies, Vicki Capro, had just arrived with coffee in hand, so I leaned over the counter and asked her where she would like to go to dinner. We both laughed and I asked her instead where she would eat dinner.

She began rambling off twenty or so different places, giving her thoughts on the restaurant, telling me which one to shy away from and at one-point coloring in half of the downtown map, stating that if I go there I could die. I took her advice.

She suggested Marcello’s, a couple of blocks away and said that it was one of her favorite restaurants. In addition, she gave me a brief life story on how her family were oyster farmers and knew good seafood.

I suggested the idea to the group and one of the first questions I got was how expensive is the place. I responded with so many dollars on average. However, I was asked again, but this time it was, how many dollar sings? I said two, but it turned out to be more than two.

The seven-block walk to the restaurant was cold, but worth the walk, as the food was absolutely delicious and service was great.

I had a special appetizer ordered, which consisted of lobster, caviar and a sauce that had a great smoked taste to it. For my entrée I ordered the Bucatini Carbonare, which was a perfect portion. The flavors of the pasta, pancetta, garlic and egg went well together and no one flavor over powered another, a sure sign of good Italian food.

We had great conversations and I even asked Dr. John Barthell, provost of the University of Central Oklahoma, about his college days and the multiple concerts he went to back then. It was great to hear about his past.

I then ordered my first Uber driver and learned that Barthell had also been in one during the conference, so apparently we are both moving into the 21st century. The driver pulled up in less than one-minute and I was surprised at how easy the service was to use.

Niedzialek, Meredith Johnson, and Melina Pérez, and I took the Uber to Café Du Mode, with the others walking there. While it was cold sitting there at the café, it was nice to have a hot cup of coffee with beignets.

Afterwards we took an Uber back to the hotel and went our separate ways for the night.



I had a great night’s rest, waking up before the crack of dawn ready to take on the day and walk around the entire French Quarter. I met up with Niedzialek, Johnson, Pérez and Dillon Travis, at 8:30 a.m. after having three cups of coffee.

We set out for Jackson Square, but arrived to what seemed like a ghost town, I assume it was due in part to it being Sunday. We walked all over the French Quarter, stopping in shops to look around and warm ourselves up.

I was getting worried about Pérez though, she has been sick since the beginning of the trip and I could not believe that she was walking everywhere with us.

To warm up, we decided to go into Oceana Grill, after I asked a bell hop on the street for a good brunch place. He said it was the best around. But, we had all ate there on Thursday night and the food was only decent.

At the restaurant three of us decided to order plain crepes, I also ordered a poached egg and bacon. The menu stated that they were “world famous,” so how could the three of us pass this up opportunity.

The crepes came out and they resembled a IHOP crepes, and the excitement began to fade quickly.

I took one bite and could not eat another bite of the cold and thick crepe, but everything else was great. While the other two were not big fans of the crepes, they ate more than I did.

When the waiter came around to ask how our food was, I gave him the honest answer of horrible. This statement made everybody gasp, but claiming to have world famous crepes, they should at least deliver up to the promise.

The waiter discounted our food and gave us free coffee, but I did make sure to leave him a 50 percent tip, seeing as the problem of bad crepes was not his fault. His service was actually very good.

Afterwards the group decided to go back to the Museum of Death and bought a few souvenirs that they were wanting to buy but had not when they toured on Friday. I was told by Pérez to buy a jar of sheep eyeballs, but I had to decline.

The group was wanting to go back to their hotel rooms and I was needing to get back; it was time for our final farewells. The hardest part of being a journalist is getting to know people over a period of time and bonding with them.

I said goodbye to Johnson and Travis on the way back, since they had an errand to run and walked back to the hotel with Pérez and Niedzialek. It was one of the quietest walks I had ever had.

It was hard saying farewell to those two and I cannot deny that I did not shed a tear.

After saying goodbye, I went over and worked for a while before Barthell arrived to leave for the day. Before we could leave though, we stopped by the Café Du Monde store to grab a few gifts and I bought a painting.

The painting that I bought was from a local artist, she had several great paintings with one in particular catching my eye. It was one of three street lamps, with nothing else on the canvas.

We began talking about her family and that the inspiration for the painting came from her great-grandfather who made street lamps for the city of New Orleans. I enjoyed learning about her family heritage and that all she had ever done for for her 20-year working career was paint, but that she loved it.

After shopping Barthell and I left for the airport, ready to both start the new semester in the morning.


Below is a quick reflection of each person I have worked closely with on this trip and in Greece and Turkey.

John Barthell, provost for the University of Central Oklahoma, was the man behind the opportunity for me to go to Turkey and Greece and to experience a scientific conference. He has inspired me to work closer with scientists and a better appreciation for the field.

Peter Cruz, student from Montclair State University, was one of the quietist when he first arrived to the university in July, but I quickly got to know him. It was great to see him presenting at the conference about his work, but also the work of others.

Nadiyah Folks, from the University of Texas at El Paso, was one of the most diligent workers, who always got to work quickly and did the job to the best of her ability. While she could not make it to the conference, it was a pleasure working with her during the trip this summer.

Meredith Johnson, student from Dickinson College, is going places and I believe that of the entire group, she has matured as a scientist the most. When she arrived at the University of Central of Oklahoma in June, she had doubts about her future in the scientific field, but now is applying to be a Goldwater candidate and has a bigger interest in science.

Darimar Loubriel, student from the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras, was unable to join us at this conference, but during the summer she brought life to each day. She was always positive about the situation and a very hard worker. It was sad that should could not make it, but I know she will go far in her field.

Olivia Niedzialek, from Bard College, was one who challenged every idea I had about myself and my beliefs. Being a New Yorker, she is a very strong wiled person and does not put up for simple answers. She opened up my thinking as a person and was one of my favorites on the trip. I know that she will be a great scientist in the future and will impress any future employer.

Melina Pérez, a student from the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras, was the one who I connected with the most during our times in Turkey, Greece and this conference. She embodied a great spirit of dedication and the ability to make you question your thoughts. I know that she will do many great things in her lifetime and the future is up to her, I hope that she will take full advantage of those.


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