International Coral Reef Symposium, Honolulu, Hawaii


I first became aware of this conference in 2009, during my undergraduate degree, as the proceedings from the 2008 symposium were published. I was in awe of the academic prowess the participants must have had to be able to attend such an event.

Since becoming a Ph.D. student, a fixed goal of mine has been to attend this symposium. Having this once in four-year event fall at the beginning of my Ph.D. was not the most ideal timing, yet I was determined to gain as much academic benefit as possible. Wanting to make the two-day trip from Israel even more worthwhile, I arrived a few days early enabling me to attend a coral diseases workshop. Attending a workshop outside of my “typical” research field was a deliberate move. I’m keen to continue learning a broad range of topics and the narrow specificy of a Ph.D. can be a downside, in my opinion.*

HIMB Coconut Island Marine Research Station symposium coral jessica bellworthy hawaii

HIMB Coconut Island Marine Research Station

Field experts Bette Willis, Greta Aeby, and Laurie Raymundo ran the workshop. The morning began with interactive lectures at the conference centre. All participants revised the literature and methods employed in this complex and controversial field. The practical portion of the workshop required a trip to the legendary Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology Coconut Island Research Station. A short boat trip from mainland O’ahu, this small, white sand, palm tree island is home to some of my most admired coral reef scientists including the late Paul Jokiel. This, therefore, was a treat in itself.

Symposium highlights

As for the symposium itself, it was massive. More than 2,500 scientists convened in the Hawaii Convention Centre. With fifteen concurrent sessions there were always at least three simultaneous talks I wanted to attend. My desire to learn outside my specific field didn’t help. However, after learning to navigate the conference program and the venue, I found myself constantly inspired and motivated by the diverse and exciting research being presented. I attended talks by key players at the forefront of coral reef science as well as heard many to students present their cutting edge research.

I took the opportunity to rekindle existing working relationships and took advantage of the student run “Lunches with Mentors”. This program enabled me to converse with leading academics whom otherwise could be considered ‘out of reach’.

ICRS conference symposium jessica bellworthy phd coral presentation

Me with my poster at ICRS

I presented some of the initial results and thoughts from my Ph.D. experiments. Presenting my research in poster format enabled me to discuss my work with many people, from fellow students through to professors. I received positive, constructive feedback and was proud to have people reach out and contact me via email after the symposium.

Corals have been my passion since volunteering with Coral Cay Conservation during my gap year. In the time since, a number of prominent scientists have become my role models. One such person is John “Charlie” Veron. Charlie is a pioneer. A veteran. He has authored hundreds of publications and written the defining books on coral taxonomy, a notoriously challenging field. My highlight of ICRS has to be an opportunistic, spontaneous handshake and conversation with this legend. Charlie entertained my awe as we spoke about the current state of the world’s reefs. It is unlikely that a similar encounter would have presented itself other than at such a symposium. For that, plus all the other inspiring experiences of the week, ICRS was worth the two-day trip from Israel.


*One way I counteract this is by joining MOOC’s, “Massive Open Online Courses”. I complete them at the weekends or whilst waiting for incubations to finish in the lab. I enrol on and strive to complete courses that both make me a better-rounded scientist, such as:

“Introduction to R” – Microsoft
“Explore Statistics with R” – Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
“Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” – University of Queensland, Australia
“Exploring the Oceans” – University of Southampton, UK

as well as seemingly random choices, such as:
“Introduction to Human Evolution” – Wellesley College, USA
“Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance” – Monash University
“The Lottery of Birth” – The Open University
“Muslims in Britain” – Cardiff University