Students and professionals put their EARS on

When Laken Ganoe was the student liaison to Council, she had an idea after returning from the annual TWS conference in Reno, Nevada.

She noticed that some students and professionals at the conference were sitting in the corner during lunch breaks, eating alone. “I got to talking to a couple of them, and they weren’t sure where to go and eat in the city. They didn’t want to go by themselves,” said Ganoe, the past chair of the Student Development Working Group. “I thought it would be a great idea to try and connect people over lunch.”

That’s how Ganoe came up with an idea to get people together to eat during lunchtime—an initiative she called “Eating Alone Really Stinks” (EARS). Ganoe said lunchtime seems to be where you get the best networking at conferences, so she wanted to capitalize on it.

She planned for the next conference to have a bulletin board in the conference center with a list of restaurants throughout the city. Under the restaurants would be blank spaces where people could write their names if they were planning on going. Then, students and professionals alike could meet up in the conference center and walk over to the restaurant in a group to eat lunch together.

Students are encouraged to use the hashtag #getyourEARSon this year. Credit: Student Development Working Group

But, due to COVID-19, last year’s conference went to an online platform. Ganoe didn’t give up on her idea. She adapted it by having an EARS meeting room open all day (since people are in different time zones, they are eating lunch at different times). That means attendees can visit the meeting room for any meal, even for drinks, she said. But she and her colleagues would post on Twitter what topics would be discussed at what times. Attendees were free to drop in for these conversations. “It seemed to work really well last year,” she said.

Ganoe wasn’t so sure she would get the casual conversation she hoped for on an online platform. But she was pleasantly surprised as people popped in and out of the meeting room. Some talked about whose study species was better—wolverines or fishers? Others agonized over their research being postponed due to COVID.

For this year’s virtual conference, Ganoe plans to have the same setup. This time, she and her colleagues will use #getyourEARSon on Twitter so that students and professionals can follow the hashtag and find out if there’s a topic they are interested in and what time others will be meeting. The SDWG also encourages attendees to share their own topics and times to meet in the lounge to get the most out of the experience.

Ganoe hopes to continue having EARS for future conferences—whether online or in person.

Visit the TWS conference website for more about this year’s annual virtual conference.

Header Image: The Student Development Working Group created a platform where students don’t have to eat alone at the annual TWS conference. Credit: