Conferences are a regular occurrence for most of us here at OnCirculation, though they vary widely in scale, scope, broadness (or lack of) and location. This time I was one of the lucky ones who got to travel to Montreal, Canada for the Goldschmidt Conference, the premier event for geochemists of all variety each year. Rotating each year between North America and Europe it has presentations on topics ranging from climate change through to resources, analytical techniques and the petrology of the mantle, meaning that the spectrum of attendees is huge. Despite being a very broad conference most attendees only see a fraction of the presentations as up to 20 sessions are held concurrently.
I was able to see a wide variety of talks, partially because the sessions were grouped based on the geological setting on phenomena rather than purely on the technique being used, for example I spoke in a session entitled ‘Deep cycles of volatiles in terrestrial planets through time’, as such it included a combination of isotopic, petrologic, experimental and modelling presentations all applied to volatiles such as carbon, nitrogen, water and halogens deep inside a rocky planet (predominantly Earth, though Mars and some moons also featured). Like a lot of researchers at RSES, I tend to focus on only a few a techniques so this gave me a very different viewpoint on some of the processes being investigated. Some of the more interesting talks included early core-mantle differentiation and some attempts to determine how much carbon is in the core – most models predict there to be more carbon in the core and mantle than any of the surface reservoirs such as coral reefs, oceans, life and the atmosphere. This came as a surprise to me as most literature on the carbon cycle focuses on the crust, oceans, atmosphere and biosphere, whilst we are only now starting to investigate and understand the cycling of carbon in the deep Earth, along with transport between this deep carbon cycle and the conventional carbon cycle.
The other part of attending a conference is networking, or too put it simply meeting people; at past conferences I have not found this difficult, however they had either been smaller conferences or else my supervisor was attending with me, which was not the case this time. Though there was a sizable contingent from RSES and a variety of other people I knew from other institutions at the conference, it was common for me to not no anyone else that was watching the same presentations as me. This made it rather difficult to meet people as I knew no one who could introduce me. It is common that you know the presenters by name due to having read their work, however in some ways this makes it more daunting. I often find that I can recall having read something by an author, but not many details about it, making it even more difficult to strike up a conversation.
Talking to a number of other students who are thinking of academic careers, like me, beginning with a postdoctoral research position, we all agreed that we were quite often talking with senior academics with the main aim of deciding whether they would be suitable to work with. However we also suspect that the reverse was occurring, though the main idea was to make sure that if we applied for a position our name would be recognised, hopefully in a positive manner, and associated with either a conversation or our presentations. The task of networking became much easier after I gave my presentation, as I was no longer just an unknown name but someone who could be associated with their work. I was fortunate enough to not get hammered by questions and to have a number of people come and say they enjoyed the talk and that it went well, including some former RSES students.
The final component of networking is the general socialising that follows each day’s science, and by socialising geologists generally mean drinking beer. Each day of the conference concluded with a poster session and drinks. This allows us to grab a drink, look at posters and chat with new and old friends. In addition to the RSES crew I also ran into people that were at RSES during my honours year, other Australian that I have met at conferences and even one of my first demonstrators from Monash University (who coincidently studied undergraduate geology with my officemate Sam). After the poster session there was always the opportunity to go out for dinner, particularly at any of the numerous brewpubs in Montreal. There were also events held by the local student community or the scientific equipment manufacturers that were exhibiting at the conference.
Overall it was an amazing experience and by far the best conference I have attended so far. I got to catch with old friends and acquaintances, make new friends, talk future job opportunities and hear about some amazing science. I’d love to go to next year’s conference in Florence, Italy however these are not cheap, especially when you have to fly out of Australia, we shall see what happens.