Well first off, I would just like to say it is great to be back in the Bay Area. 🙂
I call San Jose my home, but San Francisco is close, and probably my favorite place to visit. For whatever reason, the city never seems to get old or boring no matter how many times I go. This time I get the pleasure to come back for the American Geophysical Union Conference, and the MSPHDS program.
Minorities Striving in Participating in Higher Degrees of Success is a professional development program designed to give minority students an opportunity to train and develop every aspect of their professional identity, to network with scientists and professionals attending the AGU conference, and also to build lasting relationships with the network we are building as early career scientists. In order to be a part of this particular program, you would need to have participated in an NSF funded REU program over the summer.
THE PAST LEADS TO THE FUTURE
I qualified because this summer I participated in an NSF funded REU program called the Integrated Optics for Undergraduate Native Americans (IOU-NA) program.What was unique about this program was that it was sponsored by the Center for Integrated Access Networks at the University of Arizona, the leading institution in a multi-institutional effort to create transformative optoelectronic telecom technologies enabling a faster and less expensive internet. Cool, right?
If you would like to know a little more about this past summer in that program, you can click here.
I do research involving Aerosols, and this falls under the category of Atmospheric Sciences, just one component of a cohesive bundle of research topics that make up geophysical sciences. The four fundamental areas being atmospheric and ocean sciences; solid earth sciences; hydrologic sciences; space sciences. This week, I got to meet scientists that hail from this widely interdisciplinary world of geophysics.
The first official day consisted of a Self Introduction Presentation, a chance to get to know where everyone in the program was coming from, what they plan to do in the future, and finally some information sessions/exercises on professional development. Topics like resume development and presentation skills were discussed by the program directors.
That night a multi-cultural food festival was scheduled. Student cohorts, mentors, and directors attended and we prepared some really impressive dishes.
After everyone finished cooking and serving we all started to sample each other’s food, and personally my favorite was Ricky’s sweet potato Mochi balls, they were delicious. 🙂
It was really here that I felt I connected with my fellow cohorts, everyone was really open and the whole atmosphere was positive and felt very natural. Which of course is evident in the candid and not-so candid photos I snapped while making my way through the party.
The next day, the cohorts came together to meet with Dione Rossiter, the Project Director of Education and Human Resources of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to discuss Opportunities and Resources with AAAS. She gave us an overview of potential internships and careers available for those of us who are, or might end up, seeking an alternate path in the future. She gave us some history on her career path and how it led her to be a “Science Promoter.” She was also one of the panel speakers for a luncheon that we got to attend right after our personal meeting with her. We rushed over to the Intercontinental San Francisco ballroom to learn about “How to Become a Congressional Science Fellow or Mass Media Fellow.”
I can say with a significant degree of certainty that I was not expecting to come out of that luncheon with a notion of a paid internship at Science magazine, but after hearing the panelists and audience go back and forth with their questions, and seeing what more is available post PhD, it really opened my mind as something to consider after obtaining a PhD or even something I could do as an internship before graduate school.
I made up my mind that the next two days would be dedicated to lectures and posters exclusively, so today I would take advantage of the lectures, and for most of the day I decided to sit in on talks dedicated to Carbon Sequestration. I did, but it wasn’t too long afterward that the MSPHDs cohort met at the Westin for the Diversity Reception. This is where we pooled into various subgroups and as Raquel, Ricky, and I talked, a woman named Dena Smith approached us and sat down. It turns out that Dena has a passion for paleoentomology, which is something Raquel also has an interest in. Those two hit it off and even collaborated a bit on a research finding Raquel had on her stained fossilized teeth, the color variations and their relationship to stages of sediment deposition.
The next day was dedicated to posters! I got up and walked to Moscone South to see the atmospheric science posters and talk to a few people about various contaminants relevant in the atmosphere. I found someone in particular who focused on a similar project to my own, from a different perspective that I will bring with me to the next conference I’m due to speak at. He was more focused on spatial trends in surface based carbonaceous aerosols but had a lot to say about the contaminants that I am studying.
I also browsed around the booths quite a bit as you can see a variety of vendors were present, and all had opportunities available to undergraduate, graduate, and PHD students not readily available to someone who simply applies online for these positions. It was very much a combination between a career fair and a poster session.
As I was walking back from the conference, I got a text to meet in the lobby and that a limo would show up and take us all to the Golden Gate Bridge! Most of us piled into the limo and Antony brought his Go-Pro to catch all the action.
DAY 4, FINAL DAY
For our final day, I got exposed to a really awesome program called the Bright Students Training as Research Scientists program, (aka Bright STARS) where local middle and high school students are given a platform to present their own research that they participate in after school to the scientific community. We had the pleasure of having lunch with these talented students and discuss their thoughts on the conference, their research, and their futures. I think it proved to be a memorable and rewarding experience for all of us.
Following the day’s activities, and the last AGU Event we met for a debriefing on what happened to us individually, what we expected, what we felt we gained from it, and how we will apply what we learned in the future. Everyone shared how they felt, and most of the programs directors and organizers were there to encourage us to continue on with our chosen paths. For me this past week really felt like just a couple of hours the way things were moving along.
After that most people departed for home, and most likely took time to meditate on what happened this past week on the plane ride home, but I had an extra day to reflect and think about what I was going to do after my time in SF.
My flight wasn’t leaving until around midnight the next day so I had the option of going back to the conference or running around some of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. As you can see I chose the latter.
Personally, the AGU meeting exceeded the expectations I had because I was expecting it to be like every other conference I had been to before. This was different because most conferences I had been to up to this point had focused on graduate school admissions. Really, their targets are students who are doing research while in their undergraduate career. The vendors are almost exclusively universities who recruit students at these conferences to take advantage of the opportunities that academia can provide for them. Nothing wrong with that, but academia is not the path that everyone chooses, and it’s always good to have other options available.
I’m glad I attended this meeting; I plan to go to graduate school, but not for another year and in the interim I’m looking for a job. For this point in time knowing about opportunities with companies and industry is what is right for me and AGU really assisted in terms of information about employment opportunities that I can get on board with. One example is the mass media fellowship. I really liked the idea of scientific writing, and if I hadn’t attended that luncheon I wouldn’t have known it was an option.
What’s more is that this meeting was coupled with the MSPHDS program. This conference was by far the largest I have been to before and easily would have lost its luster for me if it weren’t for this program. Most importantly, in this whole process of professional development, I gained a family, not just a network of people to keep in touch with to further my own career goals.
There is so much more to all of this! You can’t grasp the wholeness of a person in the span of just one week, and that’s one of the reasons I am hoping that the MSPHDS GEO-REU pilot program gets renewed for funding in order for the next phases to commence. For more information about the next two phases see: (http://www.msphds.org/overview.aspx)
But until then, life goes on, and we say goodbye to San Francisco, until next time.
Solianna is a recent graduate from the University of South Florida with a degree in Chemistry. In Summer 2014, Solianna participated in the Integrated Optics for Undergraduate Native Americans (IOU-NA) program. In the near future, she plans to attend graduate school and attain a PhD in Chemistry or a Chemistry related field. She belongs to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and is currently an intern in the department of Atmospheric Sciences thanks to the University of Arizona’s NASA Space grant internship.