February 17, 2022, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
Bucket list item – check!
Tomas, an astronomy PhD candidate, talks about his experience of attending a conference with help from the Researcher Academy’s ‘Conference, travel and training fund’.
Becoming a scientist has been on my bucket list for many years. Since I started working on my Ph.D. projects, I have come closer and closer by the day to achieving this goal. However, presenting the results of my studies is a vital part of doing research too. For a large fraction of my Ph.D. I have attended conferences only as a spectator, which is exciting and illuminating but not the full experience. Finally, I found an opportunity to attend the National Astronomy Meeting 2021 (NAM) not only as audience but also as a presenter. Given the limited budget I have as a student, the Researcher Academy Conference, travel and training fund was a great help for which I am grateful.
NAM is one of the largest conferences in Europe and there were dozens of sessions focusing on topics from the Solar system to how the Universe looked 13 billion years ago. The latter was the session at which I gave my first scientific live talk. At first it was intimidating to present in front of the experts in the field, even though the conference was held virtually. I was especially worried about the questions afterwards. During my undergraduate studies I was told that “you are a world-leading expert in your project”. Fortunately, everything went well, both the talk and answering the questions, confirming this statement to be true. Phew! Naturally, this was a huge confidence booster and made this conference one of the highlights of my Ph.D. studies.
Besides attending the session dedicated to my research area, I joined sessions focusing on topics I had very little knowledge of, particularly astronomy and arts and about satellite mega-constellations. So, besides getting updated on the status of James Webb Space Telescope (which has been recently launched), I saw astronomy from a different point of view and learned about issues that astronomical community currently faces. I am glad I stayed open-minded and joined these sessions. They broadened my horizons and made me even more aware of the importance of communicating astronomy to public.
Furthermore, seeing my peers and friends presenting their work was truly enjoyable. Even though I could not hang out with them afterwards, there was a poster session in which you could walk with your avatar and connect with each other via video. This is probably the best you can do to “meet” somebody in virtual space, but it was more than enough to catch up with my friends that are based at different institutions.
Despite online conferences often facing technical difficulties and networking challenges, the above reasons make them worth joining. In case the funds are an obstacle, apply for the Researcher Academy Conference, travel and training fund! Do not worry about presenting because you know your work the best. Expose yourself to topics you are not familiar with if you get a chance, and you will be rewarded with new insights. To sum it up, NAM 2021 was much more than just another step in checking off an item on my bucket list.
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