A couple of weeks ago, I presented at my first big conference in Washington D.C.! It was aptly named Oceans but was a great departure from a lot of the ocean themed academia I see every day. There was a theme this year of “marine energy” but -I’m told- the conference is typically ocean engineering focused. This means that not only are the researchers present investigating cutting edge science, they’re using it to develop usable applications for our world. Like a true student, I collected a small list of things I learned, because every experience is one for education!
1. Sci Fi is no longer Fi
There are people doing amazing things we would have thought were impossible 15 years ago. The talk right before mine in the Offshore Wind session was an update on the electronic mechanism that collects wind energy from an airborne kite circling hundreds of meters above the ground. In undergrad, when my father suggested using wind turbines high in the atmosphere where wind speeds are quite large, my first response was an incredulous, “But how would we ever get the energy back down here?” Clearly, engineers are on it.
2. Some conferences don’t tweet.
I went in thinking, oh this is a huge conference, there will be plenty of fellow tweeters to interact with on the social media! Not so. I don’t know if it was because the number of students (read: young people) was so few, or if it was just too “professional” of an environment. But while the conference organizers had in fact created a twitter account, it was mainly filled with tweets of sponsor attendance, and there was no hashtag. What year is this?!?3. Talks are really short!
It doesn’t feel like it when you’re listening to them 😉 but a 15 minute talk on what you’ve spent two years doing is rough! It’s a fine line to walk between introducing your research to a group you must assume knows nothing about your science, and actually being able to get to some of the results you ostensibly have prepared to show them.
4. Driving in Washington, D.C. is a joke.
Call me naïve, call me a Southerner at heart (good Lord, I never thought those words would come out of my mouth), call me spoiled, but driving through D.C. and surrounding areas was the stuff of nightmares. People are jerks! The right of way is to be given, not taken! I will say this though, people up there know how to merge (right into your passenger side door…).
1. Why do academic and professional societies host their meetings at some of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever been to?
Seriously. Oceans 2015 was at the Gaylord Resort at the National Harbor, a very bougie, tourist area, and a VERY nice hotel. Why? Your attendees are, for the most part, academics, government employees, and a few scattered industry professionals. Do professors like spending thousands of dollars of grant money just to attend a conference to present their research? Does NOAA? I would be interested in a breakdown of where grant money goes – equipment, salaries, travel. Might be interesting.