You may have noticed the lack of a weekly post last week-thankfully it wasn't for more job applications, but for something I'd been working to make a reality since I was a graduate student. I spent last week attending the 5th SETAC Young Environmental Scientists (YES) meeting, located at my alma mater in beautiful (and sunny!) Gainesville, Florida. It was an intense week of behind-the-scenes running around, meeting students from around the world, and seeing the hard work of myself and many colleagues and friends come to fruition after two and a half years of working to make it all come together.
The YES meeting isn't your average scientific conference. It was started in 2009 by the SETAC Europe student advisory council, who wanted to put together a 'for students, by students' meeting concept. At SETAC YES, not only are all the participants students, but the meeting is also completely organized, fundraised, and advertised by SETAC student members. The meeting concept has since grown to include recent graduates as well, but the core concept of the meeting of providing soft skills and professional development training, as well as a non-intimidating, more intimate conference forum for developing presentation skills, is still intact.
I first became involved with the third YES meeting in Krakow back in 2013, while I was the leader of the SETAC North America student advisory council. I was inspired by the fantastic meeting that these SETAC Europe students had put on and knew that bringing this meeting to North America was a must. But it wasn't easy to get there: we had to develop meeting pre-proposals, business plans for fundraising, coordinate work with the SETAC office, and that was just the beginning, because then when all the details were sorted out we actually had to make it all happen! I'm thankful that with a bit of inspiration, a lot of patience, a great program committee, and only a few minor bumps on the road along the way, the YES meeting was a great success.
Being back at my PhD alma mater was also something of a nostalgic experience, especially with the conference located just a few minute's walk from where I did my graduate research. I had some time to talk with my previous professors, see all the changes in my old lab building, and went on more than a few culinary adventures to all my old favorite Gainesville restaurants. The nostalgia of last week was a mix of memories, from happy times spent with the friends, colleagues, and mentors who made grad school an enriching experience to the more stressful moments and the challenges that made me wonder if I was cut out for research at all.
My work through SETAC and through the past three YES meetings has not only been a great deal of fun, but has inspired me to work through the moments of stress and doubt that I have about my own scientific career. Seeing and enabling students and young researchers to come together and share their passions in science makes me believe that the future of scientific research has outstanding potential to make strides forward. At the same time, seeing my work and collaborations come to fruition in this way helps me believe in my own potential, especially in the times when things in the lab aren't going as well as I'd hoped. I come back from every SETAC event inspired, and this one is certainly no exception.
More than anything else, I'm also thankful that this meeting is finally done! My spare brain cells are already working on new ideas, research questions, and projects, things that I know I can bring to life thanks to the confidence I get from the work I do with such great people and such a great organization like SETAC. If you take anything from this week's short post, it should be this: There is a great benefit from being active in professional societies and in doing work outside the lab, because it can provide the inspiration and the impetus we need to go further in our own careers than we ever thought possible. Until then, I'll be enjoying some much-needed time away from planning meetings and am looking forward to bringing some new outreach ideas and blog post series in the coming months.
If you're an environmental science or toxicology student and are looking to get involved with a great professional organization (with lots of student-focused events, travel grants, awards, and social media profiles) then check out the SETAC website and join us at a future meeting. As an added bonus, it's the most friendly and fun group of scientists you'll meet!