The AAS Meeting - A First-Timer's Perspective
This last month was my first American Astronomical Society meeting. While the attendance at the Boston AAS Summer Meeting was listed as rather large, the AAS Summer meetings are the smaller of the two annual AAS Meetings (Winter, Summer).
I've not been to many professional conferences in my time, certainly nothing large. My career has largely taken me to small, budget-locked schools or small cities. So it was with a great amount of good luck that the 2011 Summer AAS meeting was right here in my own back yard (nearly literally!) and that the AAVSO was partnering with the AAS in order to celebrate its 100th Anniversary.
The meeting's entire prospects were exciting. I was giving my first professional poster, I was giving a presentation, and I was now a professional part of the organization sponsoring the meeting. The presentation - Variable Star Observing Using the Bradford Robotic Telescope - was to be my second for the AAVSO. My goal was to make it better than my first which occurred during our Nantucket Meeting a couple of years ago. We'd filmed that meeting, and I was in charge of editing the distributing the video. Let me tell you that seeing my presentation at Nantucket was painful. I looked like a squirrel hopped up on speed! So, for this presentation I vowed to not leave the lectern and slow everything down. That seemed to work. I thought the presentation went well.
The AAVSO portion of the meeting started on Saturday with the AAS portion of the meeting effectively starting on Monday, with some significant exceptions. The neat part of this meeting was that I really didn't need to do much in terms of infrastructure. Usually, with AAVSO meetings, I'm in charge of the technical infrastructure - computers, networking, audio/visual, etc. This time I wasn't. But, old habits die hard and I found myself helping out just because. The nice thing here was that there was a small army of people in red AAS VOLUNTEER shirts running around all during the meeting. I made the argument that I had been AAS A/V person through the weekend so I should get a shirt. They agreed! So, now I have a new favorite shirt.
Sunday saw a special Historical Astronomical Division Meeting concentrating, to a point, on variable stars and the people behind them. I was surprised to find my poster all over the HAD website. It made sense since my poster was a history poster, but I'd not thought to tell anyone in HAD about it so this was a nice surprise. I can only think that our own Tom Williams had something to do with it. Thanks Tom!
And then there were the posters! Oh my gods, the posters! There was one huge room with them, and then, just moving to someplace else upstairs, I found a whole additional space filled with them! I couldn't believe the number! Monday's poster's scared me. They were so heavily chemically based I could hardly make heads or tails out of them. Tuesday's posters (there are so many there are a different set each day) were better in that they were more geared toward photometry, something I had a chance of understanding!
While the technical and science aspects of the AAS meeting were first rate, what really made things for me was the socio-political aspect. "Networking," Aaron would say. I had found myself attached to a group of folks trying to get an LGBT Working Group (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered) to become part of the AAS. This would complement the already existing Committees for the Status of Women & Minorities in Astronomy. What was interesting was that the only member of this then unofficial task force attending the Boston meeting was its newest member - me. I was set up to just introduce myself to AAS Councilor Pat Knezek just to get a couple of minutes "face time." Those couple of minutes ballooned into five hours of discussion with two AAS Councilors and a Vice President. Apparently, also, the names of the now official Task Force were flashed up by Kevin Marvel during the AAS Membership Meeting. Guess who was taking a phone call during his 15 seconds of fame and missed it?
So, in the end, for me, it was a great AAS meeting. It was, in its own way a bit like our own AAVSO meetings, just a bit larger and more varied. Because of the size, certainly, I didn't feel the same feeling of family at the AAS meeting, but there certainly was some of that because the AAVSO certainly had a large presence at this meeting. Also, oddly enough, such meetings are vacations to me. Indeed, before I became staff at the AAVSO our annual meetings were my vacations. But meetings like this energize me far more than vacations do, and this meeting was no exception.
I look forward to the next time. Due to my work with the LGBT Task Force I may be going to Austin. If so, I can't wait!