The motivating factor in my recent trip to Oz was to attend the International Coral Reef Symposium. We call this conference the Coral Reef Olympics, because it is a gathering of the top international coral reef scientists and it happens once every 4 years. It was my first ICRS conference and, as expected, it was sometimes overwhelming, always inspiring, and never a dull moment.
The best part was meeting the Big Names: scientists whose papers I have read and who seem like giants in our field, but who turn out to be just regular folks who want to sit down and chat over a coffee or a beer. More than once, my advisor, Jen, introduced me to Big Name Guy who started the conversation with, “Jill, it’s nice to meet you. I was really impressed with your talk yesterday. Can you tell me more about [topic from my research]?” I came out of the conference with many fewer business cards, lots of compliments, and at least two potential collaborators at NOAA in Florida and the AMNH in NYC. Not so bad for a little grad student!
The second best part was my media debut: I did a short interview for a local news station about the conference. I was so nervous at the beginning that I forgot the name of my school (“Scripps Insitute for … ocean … wait. Let me start over.”). But in the end, I think I pulled it off. Also, my friend Ayana tweeted about my talk. She pretty much wrote my dissertation in 140 characters. Check out the rest of her and other folks tweets about the conference with #ICRS2012. There is so much more to science than sitting in a lab!
This conference came at a perfect time for me professional. I just finished my third year at Scripps, which means I am about half way through my time as a PhD student. It is a slow, long trek (a slog?) toward a big goal. The newness of being a grad student has worn off, but I am nowhere near close to being finished. So while I am in something of a lull, this conference was a really nice way to refresh my interest and enthusiasm for this field of science. There were many good presentations by both graduate students and established scientists, and I have a whole list of new ideas to consider for my own research. So, thank you to the ICRS community who motivated me to keep on keeping’ on.