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Making the Most of Your First ASTR: A Five-Step Program for Grad Students

Posted By Danielle Rosvally, University at Buffalo - SUNY, Tuesday, October 8, 2013

By David Calder

1. No clumping.

This is the conference mantra of Tracy C. Davis. It’s a good one. As a graduate student at your first ASTR (maybe your first conference ever), your instinct will be to seek safety with familiar faces, the other students and faculty from your school. Resist this urge. Spend your time having meaningful conversations with scholars whose work you admire and students from other institutions with whom you can imagine collaborating. Two caveats: first, respect a scholar’s busy conference schedule. It’s probably best to introduce yourself and ask if she can spare a few minutes to chat at some point over the weekend. Don’t dive into your life story between working sessions. Second, read the room. If your academic idol appears to be catching up with an old friend, do not awkwardly insinuate yourself into their conversation. It will just make everyone uncomfortable.

2. Show up.

You are at a conference. Go to the conference. Go to the plenaries. Go to the working sessions. When you apply for a research grant or a postdoc or a job, you will have to comment on the state of your field and your place within it. Conferences are where that work happens. What theoretical frameworks are being debated? What methodologies are being deployed? You may think there are only two or three working sessions that relate to your research. But a catholic attitude toward session attendance will likely reveal unexpected connections among various subfields. Follow those threads. It’s your job.

3. Really show up.

Get involved! Attend the Annual Meeting of the Graduate Student Caucus. The good people of the GSC are always looking for volunteers to serve on committees and in leadership roles. By helping out, you don’t just add a line to the "Service” section of your C.V. You also get to collaborate with students and scholars from other universities. You should also make a note of the ASTR awards for which you are eligible: the Thomas Marshall Graduate Student Award and/or the Chinoy Dissertation Research Fellowship. ASTR wants to fund you. Let them.

4. Pack a snack.

I’ve heard conferences compared to marathons. It’s true the days can be long and grueling, as exhausting as they are exciting. I’ve never run a marathon (curse my exercise-induced asthma), but I can tell you a crucial difference between the marathon and ASTR. At ASTR, you can wolf down three protein bars in the restroom between working sessions. Is it attractive? No. But those people staring at you are just jealous, because they are starving. Keep some brain food on you at all times.

5. Debrief and follow up.

The week after the conference is the time to reconnect with those colleagues you didn’t see all weekend (because you weren’t clumping). It’s impossible for one person to attend all of the ASTR working sessions. So check in with your cohort to see which sessions they attended and what was discussed. Because you all attended a wide variety of sessions (right?), you’ll be able to create a map of the field as represented at ASTR. You should also take a moment to send emails to any scholars who made the time to speak with you. A quick thank you makes all the difference.

Tags:  ASTR Dallas  conference  Graduate Student Assistance  graduate students 

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