I can’t imagine kicking off a new year without the winter AAS meeting, and there’s no better venue than Seattle. This year, I’m teaming up with fellow astrobites author Erika Nesvold as a Media Intern. We have official-looking “Press” ribbons on our badges, access to a quiet press room with free coffee and tea, and even less free time than usual (ha!) as we dash between regular science sessions and press conferences.
A lot has changed since I attended my first AAS meeting in 2008. Certainly the obvious things: everyone has a portable screen, oodles of sessions are all about exoplanets, the program book is (finally!) accessible online with an app. But more noteworthy to me is my sneakily slow-growing familiarity with all the science. I remember my first few AAS meetings were fraught with struggling to understand the plenary sessions, being completely lost in the parallel sessions, and being afraid to ask anyone about their poster because I didn’t think I knew enough about their subfield. That’s not to say everything was over my head; rather, it took me a good deal of intellectual effort to distill the gist of a presentation, and sometimes I didn’t have all the pieces I needed to complete the picture.
There was no “Eureka!” moment when this changed. I can’t point to a single event, or even a single year, when I suddenly filled in the missing knowledge gaps I barely knew about. But today, I realize I am more often than not answering others’ questions: Why should I license my code? What is reverberation mapping? How do I analyze stellar spectra? What is the SDSS data release all about? How does the revamped Kepler “K2” mission work? What is microlensing and why does it require precision parallax? In turn, I find myself actually wanting to ask questions after talks, and when I see someone standing in front of their poster I am comfortable starting a legitimate conversation about their research.
At the same time, AAS meetings remain incredibly exhausting. The introvert in me still protests on day 2 or 3, and I have to acknowledge I cannot attend an event in every single time slot. A deluge of newsworthy science results from my colleagues can still set off a bout of impostor syndrome. But it is wonderful to cram one week a year chock-full of nothing but astronomy. The whole shebang will be over before I know it.