Having a Blast at AAS

Meeting Notes

Having a Blast at AAS

231st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society

 Talha Rehman, SPS Member, Berea College


The author helping attendees with registration. Photo courtesy of CorporateEventImages/Todd Buchanan 2018.

I had a blast during the 231st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, which was the best conference I have attended to date.

This meeting took place just outside Washington, DC, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center January 8–12, 2018. In addition to attending various panels and events, I also served as a volunteer, mostly helping coordinate the Q&A sessions following the plenary talks. I also helped out at the registration table. As a result, I exchanged pleasantries with people who had traveled from all around the world to attend this meeting.

Many aspects of this conference were different from other conferences I have attended. At other conferences, attendees mostly dressed in suits. Here, some participants dressed in colorful clothing depicting astronomy-inspired artwork. You could even buy astronomy-inspired clothing and jewelry in the exhibition hall. Believe me, it was very hard to resist the beautiful merchandise!

I was encouraged that many participants were passionate about addressing the issues of diversity and low participation of women in astrophysics. There were special meet and greet sessions by the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy and the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. There was also an education and outreach event for local high school students. It was very inspiring for me to see these young people showing immense interest in science.

On the first evening of the conference, I attended the student reception and Graduate School Fair. Since I am applying to  grad school this year, I was excited to see so many institutions represented by both professors and graduate students. I visited most of the booths and learned about ongoing research at the different institutions. I also got an opportunity to network with some of the most notable names in astrophysics at the opening reception.

Another night I attended the SPS Evening of Undergraduate Science where Kerry Kidwell-Slak of SPS National talked about some of the resources available to students through SPS. Then we had a trivia contest, and my team was the runner-up. We got to choose our prizes. I had just taken a classical mechanics course in the fall, and rotational energy was still on my mind. Guess what I chose as my prize—a YO-YO! I could not resist it.

In between the networking and trivia, I attended plenaries and poster sessions! The plenary sessions were detailed talks that were easy to understand, which I greatly appreciated. Two of my favorites were “Unveiling the Low Surface Brightness Stellar Peripheries of Galaxies,” by Annette Ferguson of the University of Edinburgh, and “Astro Data Science: The Next Generation,” by Chris Mentzel of the Moore Foundation. By attending these sessions I was able to learn a great deal about various research areas. I would highly encourage any undergraduate attending professional conferences to try to attend all plenary sessions, if possible.

I am thankful to the Society of Physics Students, the internship office, and the president's office at Berea College for making it possible for me to become part of this wonderful experience.

Meeting Notes are SPS member reflections on their experiences attending professional scientific meetings. Professional meetings offer undergraduate students a unique opportunity to network amongst their peers, gain valuable skills and connections, present their research, and expand their knowledge within the field. Many of these students received funding to support their travel through the SPS reporter award.

You can find out how to apply for a reporter award here: http://www.spsnational.org/awards/reporter.