[Originally posted on 14 May 2018 for The Mars Generation Student Space Ambassadors (SSA)]
By: Emily Judd, SSA Leadership Board Secretary
As a student and young professional, attending conferences will likely be part of your career, whether it’s for presenting your research, learning more about your field, or recruiting new talent for your company. With such a variety of conferences and reasons for attending, it can be difficult to maximize your time during these opportunities. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your conference attendance.
1) Choose your conference type
There are thousands of conferences across the world each year, spanning diverse interests such as comics, music education, and atmospheric science. Even within one industry or topic, there are different types of conferences, ranging from small workshops to massive gatherings. Depending on your goals (or those of your advisor/boss), certain conferences can fit better than others. Do you want to present your research to others in your field of study? Do you want to learn new techniques to improve your communication, presentation, and teaching skills? Do you want to interact with other students and young professionals or learn from the veterans in the industry? Your answers to these questions should help you narrow down which conferences would be of interest.
You might have heard it said that “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” and that saying certainly has some truth to it. Many opportunities for research collaboration, job prospects, and other exciting endeavors can be linked to a person who recommended either you or the opportunity. Although it can be intimidating, take the chance to introduce yourself to the speakers and ask about their experiences. Get to know your fellow students; you’ll likely be either working together or competing in the future, so pursue friendships now. Develop your professional image by having business cards and resumes and utilizing social media appropriately. Follow up with your new connections after the conference to keep in contact. Of course, any social interaction is dependent on many variables, so you’ll need to judge when the situation is right.
3) Develop your interests
Often, a conference is a way to learn about new breakthroughs in the field and discuss ongoing and historical work. Presenting your work through a formal talk or a poster session can be a great way to share the importance of what you do with a broad audience. Similarly, you can learn from the other speakers and presenters that have related branches of work, gaining new insights to help further develop your ideas. If your fellow students or co-workers (and especially if your advisor or boss) are presenting, support them by attending their presentations. Often, even if you work closely with them, you will still find new information, perhaps a new perspective, a new analysis, or new data. Usually, your interest in the topic is why you are attending the conference in the first place, so really take advantage of this aspect.
4) Broaden your horizons
Most conferences cover a span of material, so even at a highly specialized meeting, you won’t know everything. Attend talks outside of your main interests. Meet with people conducting research outside your expertise. Interdisciplinary research uses ideas from many seemingly unconnected fields to make ground-breaking discoveries, so don’t pass over a panel just because you do not work in that area. Besides, you might discover a new passion!
5) Utilize the opportunities
In addition to providing topical knowledge, there can be other opportunities associated with conferences. Some will have special sessions for varied interest groups, such as students or minorities. Some have students aid or even lead in planning the conference. Others will host funding opportunities for students. Others will have associated events geared toward facilitating networking, like banquet meals, informal socials, and lunch meetings. If you can attend some of these extra events or get involved with conference leadership, you can make new friends with the current and future stars of the industry.
6) Explore and have fun
One of the benefits of conferences is the opportunity to explore the area. Many conferences are hosted in exciting cities or gorgeous areas, so do take some time to explore the area, whether that’s eating a local restaurant specialty or hiking up a nearby mountain. While the primary purpose of the conference is to learn from and interact with people, enjoy a mini-vacation if you can.
Overall, conferences are a wonderful way to learn new information in a condensed manner and meet with people from your industry. All the new knowledge can be overwhelming, so try to relax and enjoy your time as well. Conferences are a staple for many in academic and professional life, so hopefully these tips will help you develop your strategy to get as much out of them as you can!
[Originally posted on 28 February 2018 for The Mars Generation Student Space Ambassadors (SSA)]
By: Emily Judd, SSA Leadership Board Secretary
Why should you consider applying for an academic scholarship or fellowship? There are several good reasons: winning a prestigious award is a personal honor, the prize shows future employers that you are capable of great things, and the monetary assistance helps fund your education. Now that we’ve established why you should want to apply for scholarships, here’s a few tips on how to win these awards.
1) Start the application process early
As students, procrastination often hits for homework assignments. Here, if you want to stand a decent chance at winning an award, you’ll need to start well in advance of the deadline. You’ll need time to collect official transcripts, write and edit essays, and solicit recommendation letters. In addition, some of the big awards require nomination by your university, so this can require a pre-screening application to secure a nomination slot. For some of the most prestigious awards, I have heard it suggested to devote the time to the application process that you would give a 3-credit course. In addition, you’ll still be balancing attending courses, working on assignments, and all of the other activities that make you such a strong fellowship candidate to begin with, so attempt to lessen your stress by working ahead.
2) Find and make use of your school resources
Your school may have assistance available for students pursuing fellowships and other awards. Check with your administrators, your Honors program, and your professors to see if your school may have resources to aid with the application process. These resources could be people to help you through the university nomination process and suggest which awards you would be most competitive for or possibly a university writing center where people can critique your application essays. Ask around to see what help there may be.
3) Find an award that fits your profile
Most scholarships and fellowships have very specific criteria for applicants that could include academic level, field of study, extracurricular involvement, personal identity, and nationality. Make sure to read all of the application materials to make sure you fit the criteria. On the reverse side, take what makes you unique and search out organizations that cater to specific interests and identities. Applying to these types of awards will usually help bring down the numbers of applicants, making you statistically more likely to win!
Apply to a variety of awards. Smaller awards that are one-time scholarships usually have less competition, and if you win multiple awards, they can have the same financial impact as one larger award. By proving that you deserve these awards, you’ll be more qualified as an applicant for more prestigious fellowships. When applying for the big, name-brand fellowships, take care to pick out the awards that you are most qualified for, even if they might not be the awards that everyone else seems to be aiming to win. For example, if you are studying engineering, you might fit better as a Marshall Scholar rather than a Rhodes Scholar.
Overall, I like to think of the process of picking out which awards to apply for as much the same as deciding which universities to apply to. There isn’t enough time to apply for all, so pick out some that you believe you’ll have a high chance of winning, a few that are tougher competition but you’re well qualified for, and one or two “reach” awards that are the most prestigious.
4) Choose your references well
Almost all awards applications require at least one letter of recommendation. As you go through your academic career, get to know your professors well, as they will be your most likely source of recommendations. However, even the best professor may not be your top choice for a recommendation; some professors are too busy to write a personalized letter, and others may not have the necessary writing skills to fully show off your strengths. Many awards will have the references submit their letters directly, so you will not be able to read them, making this process of deciding a difficult one. From time spent in lectures and office hours or research time, you should be able to gather a sense of their writing style or, at least, their way of expressing themselves in order to help with this decision. In addition, you may want to consider using college administrators, volunteer supervisors, and bosses as references depending on the specific application requirements.
Part of your job as the applicant is making the process as easy as possible for your references. Give them plenty of time to write and submit the letter and any other paperwork, aiming for at least two weeks before the deadline, although three to four is better. Some applications want specific things for their letters, like official university letterheads, cover sheets, etc. Make sure you know the requirements and state them in a clear summary for your reference. Highlight the skills and experiences that you want your reference to include. These could be research papers, team projects, outreach events, but you want the letter to reflect on what you learned from these things, not just read out like a list copied from your resume. It is also sometimes helpful to provide your references with your other application materials such as your resume or CV and any essays, as it will give them background on why you think you’re a good candidate and a reminder on your previous experiences.
5) Tell your story with your essays
Essays, including personal statements, academic statements of purpose, and responses to prompts, can be the most daunting portion of the application process. Much like any writing assignment, start with an outline to create the organizational structure. Is there a word or page limit? Will you need introduction and conclusion paragraphs? Will the style be technical and formal or is it more personable? Figure out what main points you want to highlight and fill in from there.
Remember that judges will be reading through many applications; you want your essays to make you stand out as a human being, not just as a gifted student. Make your essay read like a story, telling about personal experiences that have made you grow and develop into the person you are today. What did you learn from these things? Were there any unexpected outcomes? What challenges did you face, and how did you work through them? Don’t be afraid to mention setbacks or times when things didn’t go according to plan; showing how you recover and adapt to failures can be just as powerful as telling about previous successes. Do remember, however, to actually answer the question or prompt given. If allowed, find a friend or other trusted person (preferably someone good at writing) to critique your work, both for grammar and for content. Different perspectives will give you varied feedback, so be prepared for that. Ultimately, the essays are your work as a reflection of yourself, so you must take charge of how you want to present your story.
Now that we’ve explored the process of applying for scholarships and fellowships and given some tips for making a successful application, best of luck as you go forth to pursue these opportunities!
August 21, 2017—the day the entire country had been anxiously awaiting. Called "The Great American Eclipse", this spectacular natural event captured the attention of people from Oregon to South Carolina along the path of totality and many others. As one of the "others" not along the path of totality, I decided to take an adventure to find this mysterious total solar eclipse. So with a group of fellow grad students from the Climate and Space department at Michigan, we set off to Cookeville, Tennessee, home of Tennessee Tech.
The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) chapter at Tennessee Tech hosted a weekend-long event for students in anticipation of the eclipse. We tried out solar telescopes for the first time and marveled at the sunspots right in the center of the sun. For a time where we are heading into solar minimum, we were lucky to have some active regions on the sun, both on the surface, and along the edge, just in time for the eclipse. An astronomy professor and a NASA heliophysicist from Marshall spoke to us about the features we might see during the eclipse, including Baily's Beads and the diamond ring effect, caused by the uneven surface of the moon. During totality, we might even glimpse the chromosphere, as determined by a faint pink color around the rim due to helium. Of course, with a large group of space students, we had fun with traditional activities such as watching Apollo 13 and experimenting with rocket powered Tinkertoy cars.
The morning of August 21 dawned clear and bright, with only a few scattered clouds—perfect eclipse viewing skies! After watching the launch of the SEDS weather balloon, we sat and waited anxiously for first contact of the moon to the rim of the sun. Finally, around 12:00 PM CDT, a yell went up, "It's started!" We all rushed out, shoved our eclipse glasses on our noses, and gazed up. Over the next hour, we watched the sun slowly disappear. Around 1:00, the light started looking odd, with a blue-gray tint. We didn't need our sunglasses for seeing things (excluding the sun) anymore. The temperature had also noticeably cooled. Our excitement grew, and our whoops and hollers did as well, possibly to the chagrin of our neighboring viewers. Suddenly, at 1:29, the light dimmed and the moon completely covered the sun. Many joyful exclamations ensued, most along the lines of "it's so beautiful" and "AWESOME". Glancing around, it appeared as if sunset had occurred all around us. We were able to see the faint pink of the chromosphere with the naked eye. It looked like a hole had been ripped into the sky. After a scant two and a half minutes, we hurried to put our eclipse glasses on again to see the sun emerge from the shadow of the moon. The sight was more exhilarating than I thought, and the features were so new, even though I thought I knew what to expect. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the next total solar eclipse in 2024!
Wow! As of this evening, I am officially finished with my first year of grad school. Looking back over this past year, it's easy to see where I messed up or could have done better (yay, perfectionist tendencies). So, let's go over what I learned, both from the good and the weird.
1. Grad school is hard
Yes, I'm aware that this is kind of obvious. Did I know what I was getting into? Not really. I thought I would be prepared for the work load since I had double majored, but it's a whole different ballgame. The first thing that threw me was that I only had 2-3 academic classes plus seminars. I was used to taking 7-8 as an undergrad and being constantly busy while I was at school. Now, I go to class for a couple hours, and then there is "free" time, in which you can do professional development events, work on the lovely homework sets, and, best of all, research the stuff you actually care about! As a grad student, it is so important to actually manage your time to get your schoolwork and research done even if you don't have set hours or meetings on campus.
2. A support system is imperative
This kind of goes along with the first point. As a new grad student, you're in that awkward position of being both a student and a professional. The older students and faculty have been instrumental in helping me survive this first year without going absolutely crazy.
3. Grad school is awesome
Where else do you get a bunch of students all together who actually want to be in school and are completely excited about all sorts of topics? It's great to be able to "nerd out" with my fellow students and have them actually understand what I'm talking about, or even better, teach me something new.
Anyway, that's all for now. Have a fantastic summer! I'm going to be eyeball deep in research, which is exactly where I want to be.
In order to actually start practicing writing in preparation for research papers, I'm going to give keeping a blog a try. Look for a real post in a week or so!