Adventures at AAS

One of the highlights of my year is always the winter American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting. It’s a few days in early January jam-packed with as much astronomy as you could imagine—some 3000 astronomers presenting new research, learning about resources for education and outreach, and seeing colleagues in person for once.

AstronoMerrdiff with fellow conference-goers Gavin Mathes, Laura Mayorga, and Nigel Mathes.

This year’s meeting was held in National Harbor, outside Washington, DC. For the first time, I signed up to give a talk about my latest research instead of a poster. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for Thursday morning, the last day of the conference… and if you know anything about AAS meetings, you know that Wednesday night is Party Night. Oh well.

Between frantically scraping together results for my talk and trying to be in two places at once from roughly 8:30am–10pm for three days straight, it was pretty tiring, but equally engaging and amazing. Here are some highlights.

  • Achieving an airplane miracle: I had to rebook on a different airline out of a tiny five-gate airport (at the last minute, for free, with a layover in a different city) and I managed to arrive at my final destination within five minutes of my original flight. What.
  • Arriving early to crash participate in part of the AAS Ambassadors workshop. I did this program properly last year, and was invited back to chat with the new cohort.
  • An excellent plenary talk by Alyssa Goodman about visualization in astronomy.
  • Answering questions at the combination astrobites / astrobetter booth and getting to know my fellow authors.

    Astrobites authors gearing up for AAS.
    Astrobites authors gearing up for AAS.
  • Helping judge undergraduate posters for the Chambliss Award. It is a great way to learn what they are researching and help them practice their presentation skills.
  • Being invited to write posts for the AAS Facebook Page about the meeting.
  • A special lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Unfortunately many parts of his talk didn’t sit well with me; he is a superb communicator but he is also very full of himself. His talk didn’t need to denigrate vegans, Republicans, the poor/uneducated, religion, women, or anybody else just for a laugh.
  • An excellent session about code sharing in astrophysics. (Summary: do it!)
  • A fantastic plenary talk by Mark Krumholz about the origin of stellar mass. He is a superb speaker. Read an astrobite about his paper on the same topic here.
  • A very important discussion about the use and misuse of the GRE for admission to graduate school. As somebody with an abysmal Physics GRE score, I was interested to learn that the exam is biased against women and should never be used to make admission cutoff decisions. Vanderbilt’s Bridge Program stood out as an awesome example for how to completely ignore the GRE and actively recruit and support underrepresented populations in STEM PhD programs.
  • Participating in a Hangout for Nicole Gugliucci’s Learning Space show as a followup about the AAS Ambassadors program.
  • The aforementioned Wednesday night party with a pre-party to match.
  • My five minutes of fame: telling a room of ~20 people all about my latest research, and successfully answering questions afterward.
  • A full afternoon of Hack Day that featured a variety of fun projects and free food.
  • Tweeting all the while. Search #aas223 for a sampling of meeting-related tweets.

All in all, an excellent conference. As usual, I am now inspired to go forth and do all the science! (Which is a good thing, because AstronoMerrdiff’s thesis proposal is coming up very, very soon, and there is lots of work to be done.) The next AAS meeting will be in Boston this summer, and the one after that will be in Seattle next January. If you’re ever geographically colocated with a future AAS meeting, I encourage you to stop by.


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