Goldschmidt is the largest annual geochemistry conference, held this year in Yokohama, Japan. I am not a newcomer to Goldschmidt. I attended Goldschmidt in Montreal, Canada back in 2012. That was when I was a first year M.Sc. student, presenting something I did as a side project during my final year of undergraduate studies (and special thanks to my supervisor at that time, Yaron Katzir, for sending me to Canada for such an unimportant research project).
Attending conferences, like any other academic activity, is an acquired skill. My experience in 2012 can be summed up by this quote:
…Some scientist was talking about something, then another scientist goes “hmmm… interesting…” and nods the head. Really? But I don’t understand a thing! How can this be interesting??
Taken from one of my previous posts: One year over, two (and a half) to go
I was listening to talks without really understanding what people were talking about and why. The entire experience was overwhelming and confusing. Goldschmidt conferences are big – thousands of people. I was not prepared for it at all. My strongest memory from Goldschmidt 2012 was not any scientific insight but rather this song, which was played in public places several times:
Regardless of the apparent failure to get any scientific experience from it, it did prepare me well for the recent conference in Yokohama. I knew what I was getting into, I had a list of people I wanted to talk to, I was presenting research that was much more exciting than 4 years ago, and much more.
During registration I opted for a poster. My subject did not feel like it fits a 12 minute speed talk, but seemed to be better laid out on a poster. I was also thinking that the two hours I had to present the poster will be much more beneficial than talking about it for 12 minutes. However, my poster’s location was in the dark back right corner (seriously, I used my phone flash light so people could see), and the amount of people who came to see it was not great. Possibly because it was on the first day? And you have to carry the poster tube around with you in airports which is kind of annoying. I would definitely go for oral presentation next time.
As for the few people who did get to see my poster, the discussions were really good and helpful. By knowing what other people think about the subject, I was able to organise the thoughts in my mind. Now would be a good time to give an oral presentation! Too late though.
The conference only went uphill from there. Whenever I saw someone who might be important in the field, I introduced myself by “Hi, I’m Michael, experimental petrologist. I heard you like PGE/REE/sulfides. I got a story to tell you!”. This was a surprisingly good pickup line. One of the science-celebrities even emailed my supervisor telling him he liked my stuff. Epic win! The amount of feedback was huge. I got many ideas how to improve my experiments and the interpretation of the results.
Apart from being beneficial directly to my own field of study, I was exposed to a variety of tangentially related fields (this is a geochemistry conference after all). Unlike Goldschmidt 2012 in which I didn’t understand much, this time I was discovering a whole new world. I could actually understand what other people were talking about and I was interesting in hearing new scientific discoveries unrelated to own narrow field of interest. Also, listening to other talks and seeing other posters helped me put my own research in a wider context. I guess you all know this:
This allowed me to understand how to make my own little “dent in the circle” wider than I previously thought. I was talking to the other ANU-RSES PhD students who attended the conference as well, and it seemed that I was not the only person who had a positive experience during Goldschmidt. That was a successful conference indeed!
I made new connections, new friends, and benefited significantly in term of science from this conference. It was a great success! I would like to acknowledge the Vice-Chancellor’s HDR Travel Grant for the assistance in making this trip possible, and huge thanks for my supervisor John Mavrogenes for letting me go!