Student Funding Opportunities: “My Experience at the 2017 Geological Society of America Conference”

Presenting at an academic conference is an important part of a researcher’s life, an opportunity that most young researchers look forward to. However, undergraduate students rarely have this opportunity.  At academic conferences, the latest in discoveries, technologies, and scientific innovations are announced, making such conferences an incredible opportunity for students.

Several weeks ago, I submitted my abstract to present my research at the 2017 Geological Society of America’s National Conference in Seattle, Washington. Once my abstract was accepted, I was excited to present my research (which I have been working on since April) to a huge crowd of guests.  The National GSA conference is the largest conference for geologists and geoscientists.  Conferences like these are a place for scientists (from students, to researchers, to professionals), to meet and present their work, and appreciate the work of others.  Undergraduate students less frequently attend large conferences, as postgraduate and professionals often have much larger budgets for attending conferences. As an undergraduate, I was excited to get this opportunity through Hanover’s STAR grant program.

When you present your poster, you are initially grouped off into subjects. My subject area was geoinformatics—the study of how technology can be used to teach, explore and learn about the geosciences.  In my group, there were eleven individuals presenting on a wide variety of subjects, from app development to how best to utilize geographic data, or, a way to develop maps more efficiently as data changes daily.

In my experience, standing in front of a poster for several hours waiting for people to ask me difficult questions is one of the most nerve-wracking (yet enlightening) experiences to have as an undergraduate.  I was competing for the attention of brilliant men and women who have made incredible strides in the geosciences, against the PhD candidates and professionals who presented alongside me.  Luckily, I was not at the conference alone; my advisor Dr. Ken Bevis, and classmate Kelsey Rodgers were at the meeting presenting research of their own!

Presenters have the job of making sure their research is both clear and informative.  I found it was useful to create a 2-minute ‘elevator speech’ about my research.  This helped me formulate my research questions, and my final results without losing the interest of my audience.  Small group discussions between researchers are ubiquitous at such conferences, and I found myself talking to professionals and students from across the country.

The daily schedule for most national conferences is carefully planned, and mine kept me on a tight time frame.  From 8:00am-6:30pm, presentations, lectures, and events ranging from the subject of NASA’s drone missions in space, to the geochemical analysis of microbial bacteria in a stream in Kenya, filled my days.  Five days of these sorts of talks can seem incredibly long, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get bored at some points. Luckily, there are lots of social events to attend during the conference, like coffee breaks and geological excursions around town.  After the first day ended, we were able to find plenty of time to explore Seattle, making it to the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and, of course, the famous 1st Starbucks.

The biggest benefit I got from attending this conference was an opportunity for networking. Because I will be applying to graduate school in the coming months, I used my free time in Seattle to meet with universities that I might be interested in attending as a graduate student. This was a great opportunity to be able to meet and talk to some of their faculty and students, introducing myself to them before I apply to their programs.  I left feeling excited and optimistic about the research they were doing at the different institutions and saw my potential at the schools. Many professors gave me business cards, urging me to look into their programs, and I made sure to follow up with them after the conference.  Like in any other profession, networking is very important in the geosciences.

The conference I attended was a great experience and I would encourage all the students doing research to try and attend one if possible.  I learned that the research we do at Hanover is just as important as research done at any other college or university.  If no one else ever learns about your research, then no one can build off of what you’ve discovered, and this collaboration is important everywhere. At the end of the conference, I had a new perspective on my project and the scope of my research, thanks to the feedback I received.

Source: The Triangle