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As some of you know, I am about to head out to the Geological Society of America’s 125th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. This will be my second national conference that I have ever been to and I am absolutely psyched. (I’m also slightly nervous since I am listed on GSA’s official blogroll. I will be posting everyday while I’m at the conference about good talks I’ve seen, ideas and questions that have been raised, etc.) I have been shirking my homework to study the different programs that will be given and my conference planner is jam packed with all the things I want to see and do. I’m even leaving a day earlier than everyone so that I can go to the Sunday morning sessions – especially those on education.
Now, in my own preparations to go to this meeting, one of my friends who is also going sent me a text that described all the things he was doing to get ‘organized’ before he left. He made my endless scrolling through the conference planner and mapping routes to get to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science look like child’s play. In response, I have decided to detail some of what I do to prepare and get the most out of every conference I’ve been to. Think of it as a student’s guide to their first GSA Conference.
In preparation, I go through the meeting’s website with a fine-tooth comb and find all the events, conference planners, things to do outside the meeting, lists, etc, etc, that I could possibly want. I bookmark them and I keep word documents open where I record the notes. I don’t necessarily print these notes out to take with me, but they are just something that helps me get my thoughts organized before I leave my house. Going through the conference planner lets me see what I’m really focusing on and helps me to get an idea of what the theme of the conference is. It also helps me plan when keynote speakers are and what lunches I might want to go to.
What do I pack? I try to keep my clothing professional for events like this, but I think staying in a casual business casual is better at a geology conference. Most of the people giving talks are scientists who spend enormous amounts of time out in the field or in a lab. Some are professors, but geologists tend to be a pretty relaxed group. I’ll never forget my first time wandering around all the posters and booths in Minneapolis and I stopped at the mineralogy organization’s booth. I’m pretty sure I talked with one of the executive members of that organization and I asked him what I could do to better identify my rocks and minerals. He was so friendly and knowledgable even though I was so incredibly intimidated by talking to a real life scientist that I all I could think about was how much I wanted to learn how to be able to just pick up a rock and know immediately by its feel what it was.
That’s one thing about these conferences. You have to talk to people. I’ll admit that I struggle with this one a little bit. I am insecure in my own knowledge of geology, so I hesitate to ask questions and to start a conversation with a stranger because I worry I may become quickly out of my depth. Yet, this is all part of the learning experience and so I’m hoping to get better at branching out this time. I have a couple of years under my belt and a few conferences too. Talking is a great way to begin networking and building your personal learning network (PLN) because it allows you to find people who are interested in the same things you are or that are doing something interesting that you might like to try. It was through visiting the poster session with one of the seniors from our school and asking a few questions of the poster presenters that I learned that maybe I did have relevant questions even though I might not understand entirely and it was at the same session that I got the idea for my original capstone project of analyzing erosional rates on tombstones in the Nebraska prairie.
Another thing that I have to remind myself of is to not get discouraged when all of these talks are so over my head that all I can understand are words like “of” and “the.” Science is sometimes like a different language and I don’t know all the technical terms, so I equip myself with a notebook where I jot down questions or words that I don’t understand that I can ask my professor about later at dinner. Nothing in the world feels better than sitting in a presentation where you are finally able to understand what someone is talking about. I experienced this first in Albuquerque at a regional GSA meeting my first year in college. I finally had enough of the basics to understand.
It’s okay to take a break sometimes. There are a lot of presentations and there are a lot of posters and things to see and sometimes it can get overwhelming. I plan breaks into my day. If there’s a morning or afternoon that doesn’t really have many talks that interest me, I’ll go explore the local science museum. You can learn a lot from these museums and I still carry my notebook with me there so that I can jot down interesting things or questions that I have about the exhibits. Get out of the convention center and be in the sun for a little while. Give yourself a little bit to recharge so that you’re ready to go back with a fresh mind.
Attend the free keynote speaker talks and any student lunch/event that you possibly can. Student lunches are normally free, but first come, first serve. You want to get there early because this is your chance to sit down and talk with professionals in the geologic field about questions and worries you might have. This is an amazing and personal opportunity! It’s a great way to start talking to people and building your PLN too. You have questions, everyone has questions, and these lunches are an opportunity to ask someone who isn’t your professor. The keynote speakers are normally absolutely fabulous. The first one I ever saw was a woman who cross-country skied across Antarctica. It was inspiring and affirming that science was something that I wanted to continue to do. Another keynote speaker I saw talked about why Yellowstone wasn’t going to erupt anytime soon which was incredibly fun and I saw how science could be engaging. These are all learning opportunities that sometimes get ignored. Make the extra effort to be there and you’ll never regret it.
These are just some of the things that I do at a conference that help me get the most out of the experience. What are some things that you do? What questions and worries do you have?
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