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The 204th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society—A Student Perspective

By Diana Fulton & David Orth, SPS Reporters, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

BiQing For, from the University of Arizona, presented a poster about her work on variable stars, along with her faculty advisor Betsy Green (not pictured).  

One of the greatest opportunities for undergraduate students is to experience a professional scientific meeting. We were fortunate enough to have this opportunity by attending the AAS meeting in Denver, CO by volunteering to be student reporters for the Society of Physics Students. Our goal was to get a sense of the undergraduate student presence and perspective. We achieved that goal by interviewing undergraduate students, the president of the AAS, and attending various research presentations.

One activity specifically designed for undergraduates at the meeting was the Undergraduate Orientation. The Orientation’s goal was to give a basic outline on how the meeting functions. During the Orientation, we had the opportunity to talk to students about their participation at this meeting.

  Candace Gray from University of Texas - El Paso, presented a poster about her research on cataclysmic variables.

Candace Gray from University of Texas - El Paso (pictured at right), presented a poster about her research on cataclysmic variables. Candace stated that she enjoys attending such meetings because it improves her writing and presentation skills of scientific material. She also explained that her university did not have an undergraduate or graduate astronomy program, so attending the meeting allowed her to network with other students and faculty at perspective universities. Another undergraduate student that we met was BiQing For and her faculty advisor, Betsy Green from the University of Arizona. Betsy enthusiastically informed us of BiQing’s work on variable stars. She also informed us that in order for an undergraduate student to present a poster, an AAS member must sponsor them.

We were fortunate to talk with Dr. Catherine Pilachowski, the AAS President, at the Orientation (pictured at left). In our conversation, Dr. Pilachowski stated that student participation has steadily increased at AAS meetings. One factor that contributes to this increase is the emphasis placed upon presenting research conducted during Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). Dr. Pilachowski stated that students were able to learn the interactions and culture of professional astronomers by attending AAS meetings. She stressed the importance of professionals interacting with students. Additionally, the AAS officers will mingle with students in a more informal manner to encourage them in their endeavors.

Dr. Catherine Pilachowski, President of AAS.  

As for the overall scope of the AAS meeting, it was impressive! It was well organized and staffed with informative, helpful people. The Colorado Convention Center was well suited to hold such an event; it provided plenty of space for numerous oral, poster and vendor presentations. Oral presentations provided for diverse, interesting topics ranging from the first results of the Spitzer Space Telescope to professional/amateur collaborations in astronomy. The undergraduate presence was definitely seen in the poster presentations, which also covered diverse topics. The vendor representation included scientific and industrial organizations, for example, National Radio Astronomy Observatories and Lockheed Martin, respectively.

  NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe

But without a doubt, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe gave the most impressive speech of the meeting. The primary purpose of his speech was to announce NASA’s request for proposal submissions for an autonomous robotic mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. He also conveyed NASA’s continued support of space-based scientific missions.

Overall, the 2004 AAS meeting was an excellent experience for undergraduate attendees. They were able present their research, network with prospective graduate schools and employers, and attend important research presentations. We recommend students to participate in national meetings of this sort because of the opportunities presented by them.

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