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Apr 27, 2014

Conquering the Scientist's Conference

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Conferences are a staple to a learning scientist’s bucket list. These meetings bring all the specialists in a field to one spot so that the latest findings can be communicated. This past spring break, the UT Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS) sent ten members to the national ACS conference in Dallas. Here are some highlights of what our members learned.

Expand your interests

A conference is the perfect place to get exposed to the breadth of your field. Chemistry is a subject that appears limited to textbooks and lab manuals, but the subject has many implications in other fields. One of our biology-inclined members  remarked, “Before I attended the conference, I have always associated nanoparticles with inorganic chemistry and never [paid] attention to that particular subject. However, I learned that nanoparticles are also used in the medical and botany fields, which I find to be fascinating.”

She also noted that the most interesting research was not necessarily from famous scientists, but from students just like us. She said, “I really enjoyed the poster sessions, and listening to the research conducted by our UT undergraduates. By going to the ACS conference with our members, I was able to learn a lot more about how sophisticated undergraduate research could be.”

...Or refine your old interests

While there are plenty of new things to learn, the innovations presented at scientific conferences can expand your current passions. One member recounted, “I think my favorite session was the Kavli foundation talk about the biodegradable microchips.”

“With these biodegradable microchips, the issue of e-waste becomes more manageable with decreasing consumer electronic. Anybody could buy a cheap phone with one of these biodegradable chips in it, use it for a short period of time, and then discard it responsibly. These chips could be inserted into the patient during surgery right before they’re sutured back up, and then become active and heat up approximately 48 hours after surgery to kill any bacteria present. After a few weeks, the chips would degrade and the patient is infection-free. As someone interested in going into surgery, this was probably the most exciting and mind-blowing thing I had learned.”

Explore a new place and the scientific community

Conferences are often held in tourist hotspots to serve as a much needed getaway for scientists. While our Dallas conference was just down the road, the chemistry-oriented environment still encouraged friendship with people of similar interests:  “[The conference] really got me to start thinking in terms of how the scientific community works in the real world. I finally got a sense of how some of these great papers in the past came to be. During the night, my fellow ACS roommates and I decided to go search for some local food. We ended up on a trip together through Dallas, sharing our thoughts on the presentations and exchanging new-found knowledge over some amazing burgers. Within a couple days this group and I became one group of friends like nonpolar amino acids in a protein coming together due to hydrophobic effects (I had to make one chemistry reference).”

Don’t get overwhelmed

A conference as large at the National ACS meeting has a multitude of events on schedule. For many first-time attendees, the sheer volume of information was overwhelming. One member warned, “Don’t try to go too many talks in a row, regardless of if they are interesting or not. Conferences are exhausting and you will pass out eventually. Plan out your schedule intelligently. Take breaks or do other activities between talks so you can get the most out of what you actually attend.”

Planning ahead is key. Another member suggested, “Definitely do your research beforehand. Get the mobile app associated with the conference, and look up all the sessions that you’d like to attend. You won’t be able to attend them all, but it’s better than getting lost! You’ll get the most out of your short time.”

Every conference is different, and the ACS National conference is definitely a large and prestigious one. The most important thing to do is to get up and attend what you can while keeping an open mind for new and exciting information.

For more information about UT’s ACS chapter, visit us at www.acs.cm.utexas.edu or email us at acs.utexas@gmail.com.

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