Friday, March 30, 2007

Planning a scientific meeting

Scientific conferences are one means by which scientists spread our knowledge and current research work. Since it is not possible for any one of us to know what is going on in the widely varied fields of astronomy, or even everything that is going on in one specific subfield of astronomy, we use conferences to keep tabs on the latest news. Plus, conferences are great places to network, to catch up with old friends, and to get some rare social interaction.

Here at Texas, we are planning a conference to be held here in the fall. It is a conference specifically targeted at postdoctoral scientists -- researchers like myself who have a doctorate but are working at short-term jobs (often funded for just three years at a time) instead of long-term positions or professorships. It is a challenging and crucial point in the astronomy career. We no longer work under close supervision and guidance of a professor, as we did when we were grad students. Yet we are still learning the ropes, and the number of more permanent positions is much smaller than the number of postdocs.

To help postdocs out a little bit, the McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors (the public arm of the observatory) and retired astronomy professor Frank Bash have set aside money for the postdocs to organize a conference every two years. The purpose of this conference is to bring postdocs from across the country and covering as wide a range of disciplines together. We'll hear review talks about many fields, and we'll have the opportunity to meet other postdocs and begin to widen our social networks. And hopefully, it will be a little fun, too. This will be the third such meeting, so we hope to build on past successes.

But, like any even, this conference requires a lot of planning. Today we are having a meeting to discuss specific people we would like to have give talks at the meeting, and how to begin advertising the meeting. I am on the scientific committee --- we are concerned with organizing the talks on various subjects, coming up with a schedule, and getting a large turnout. Another committee deals with local issues and logistics, which I find more boring, but that are, in many ways, much more important than the scientific issues.

So, there is lots to do! We're keeping our fingers crossed that we can pull this off successfully.

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