Greetings from Boulder, Colorado!
I’m going to be writing this entry throughout the week as events progress, but as the conference is nearly half-over (or half-started, for you optimists), I thought I should get started writing! Also for anybody interested, you can read my conference poster here. Note that it’s a hi-res PDF so it may take some time to load.
I’m blogging from my hotel room at the CEDAR conference while I take a break from sitting in talks that go way over my head. It’s been a great experience being here; I’ve met students from all over the country and world, and have really enjoyed talking to them. The weather is absolutely gorgeous, as is the view. This is my first time in Colorado, and I can definitely see myself calling it home someday, should the opportunity come along.
We arrived in Colorado late on Saturday night, after a long day of taking a final exam, catching a shuttle to Orlando, a delayed flight to Denver, and a shuttle to Boulder that forgot about us and ended up being an hour and a half late. It was quite lucky to have the time-change working in my favor, as I was up at 7 am the next morning (something I swear never to do) for breakfast and the beginning of the student workshop. Sunday was a whole day devoted to some lower-level talks aimed at students (albeit Masters and PhD students, so I was still pretty lost) and a lot of socializing. The group of us from Riddle, which consists of myself, three PhD students, and three Master’s students (all EP) have been pretty much sticking together, but in the last couple days we’ve also been hanging with a student from the Indian Institute of Technology, some students from Utah State and various other state colleges all over the country (I’ve lost track!), and a group of students doing an REU program at the MIT Haystack Observatory. For those who haven’t heard that term, REU stands for Research Experience for Undergraduates, which is similar to an internship (it’s basically what I’m doing, but you usually go to another university to do it.) They are my favorite to talk to because they don’t make me feel like the kid in the group.
Yesterday we attended a fancy schmancy banquet at CU Boulder, which was a great time. The food was delicious and it gave us an opportunity to chat about all sorts of things – time flew and we almost missed the last bus back to the hotel! We all went out for “the best frozen yogurt in Boulder” afterwards and had more chance to chat in a less-formal setting. It was a blast! I regret sitting with students at the banquet rather than doing some networking with professionals, but I’ll have a better opportunity for that later in the week anyways (My plan is to schmooze some NASA guys into hooking me up with an internship.)
The conference itself is definitely interesting, but does get boring (just being honest here!) The sessions are generally aimed at other scientists in the field, i.e. people with PhDs, so a lot of what they are talking about goes way over my head. It’s some pretty cool stuff though, and I do enjoy bits and pieces of it. Mostly it gives an impression of what it’s like to get out into the world and actually be a physicist, because until now the only viewpoint I’ve had was The Big Bang Theory. I’ve been spending a bit of time sitting in sessions, and then taking breaks to sit in my room and let my brain recuperate. The coolest talk so far has probably been the one this morning, which was a tribute to 50 years of gravity wave research. Dr. Colin Hines, the first to publish a paper on gravity waves (in 1960!), participated in the session via phone, which was pretty cool. After that I grabbed lunch with the group from MIT Haystack and then came back for another gravity wave session, led by ERAU’s own Dr. Snively.
Tonight will be the first of two poster sessions; it is divided into “IT” and “MLT”, which stand for “Ionosphere/Thermosphere” and “Mesosphere/Lower-Thermosphere”. Basically it depends on what part of the atmosphere your research focuses on. My poster is MLT, so I’ll be presenting tomorrow evening, but I’ll definitely be out there tonight to get a feel for the session and check out the other posters from Riddle. That’s all I’ve got for now, I’ll write some more tomorrow…
Today was the big day! I skipped out on all the sessions this morning to sit in my room and read over every inch of my poster – had to be ready for the big, scary questions! Well, there weren’t many big, scary questions, so that was good. Overall I think my poster presentation went well; I definitely got flustered going over my spiel so many times, but people seemed genuinely interested. And they should be, as I’m the only one here doing non-Earth research. I even handed a business card to a guy from NASA. It’s always worth a shot in the dark to say, “hey, I see you work at NASA, do you have any connections to internships?” I think he admired my forward-ness, because he took my business card and said he’d email me. You never know what can come from good networking!
After the poster session we all went into downtown Boulder for dinner – wow! I wish I had taken some pictures. It’s a really cool city, lots of small brick buildings, street performers, and little shops, bars, and restaurants. We ended up eating at this bar/restaurant, and had the whole second floor balcony to ourselves (mostly because it was the only place all 8 of us could fit!) It was a great time. And they had this raspberry red velvet torte with coffee ice cream that was divine.
Well, the conference is winding down. We were up way too early today for “breakfast with NSF”, where the directors of the National Science Foundation sat down with students over breakfast and just had an open conversation. It was cool, but I didn’t feel like I got much out of it. We ended up talking more about how the conference went and suggestions for next year than we did about getting jobs and working in the field. Also, we were just sitting in a big circle of chairs, and it’s really difficult to eat French toast from a plate on your lap. Just saying.
After that were the poster prizes. One of the students from Riddle and the guy from the Indian Institute of Technology with whom we have been hanging both won honorable mention awards! There was also a distinguished speaker lecture this morning by a woman who has been in this field of research for over fifty years. It was really interesting, because she talked more about her life and building her career than the actual science – she spoke about being denied entry into a PhD program in India and only being allowed to teach undergraduate physics to women, simply because she was a woman. It was a very thought-provoking lecture.
In the evening a few of us went out for Ethiopian food with the group from Utah State. It was a really cool experience – they bring one big plate of food to the table, and you all just kind of dig in (with your hands!). There is this like soft bread stuff you would rip off and use to grab the different foods. It was delicious, cultural, and a lot of fun!
Tomorrow we leave Boulder around noon. The trip over all has been fantastic, and an amazing experience. I can’t wait for next year!
Feel free to email me if you have questions about anything I have (or haven’t) talked about here. I’m always open to emails!