Congratulations to Sara Ludwick, whose poster at the AGU fall meeting entitled “Achieving Education Goals with Climate-related Community and Citizen Science,” received an Outstanding Student Presentation Award! Read on for Sara’s reflections on the experience.
I practiced my poster presentation with my family the night before my flight to Washington, D.C. The poster explored features of community and citizen science (CCS) projects that had a climate change focus. We were interested in showing how, within the context of climate change, CCS has the potential to not only generate usable data for climate science, but also to provide meaningful learning experiences for participants, depending on how these projects are designed and implemented. I thought it would be a good idea to practice talking about this work with people who had no idea what citizen science is, but their puzzled looks made me feel even more nervous about going to AGU. I spent that night fighting anxious thoughts and battling the infamous “Imposter Syndrome.”
When I walked inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on the first day of the conference, I immediately stopped, stood at the entrance, and scanned my surroundings. There were a lot of people, and a lot of hallways. I was absolutely overwhelmed, but it was mostly a positive sense of overwhelm. The convention center I was standing in was full of so much possibility. My fears and anxieties started to wash away, with gratitude and excitement taking their places.
I located the check-in booth, proudly placed my blue registration badge around my neck, and headed for the poster hall. When I was warned that AGU was massive, I had no idea what that would look like. It wasn’t until I rode the escalator down to the poster hall and saw the rows and rows of poster boards that I really understood. After roaming through the poster hall and attending an oral session in the afternoon, a couple of things became clear to me: there was absolutely no way I’d make even half of the sessions I’d scheduled on my AGU app, and I was going to need a lot of coffee.
The next day, I found board #1011, hung up my poster, and turned around to find a woman, notebook in hand, ready to ask me about the work I was presenting. She ended up being the first friend I made at AGU, and having an effortless conversation with her so early in the day helped me realize that this presentation wasn’t at all as terrifying as I thought it would be. As the session progressed, I learned from scientists who had a lot of experience with citizen science and felt comfortable talking about it with those who weren’t as familiar. When people stopped by my poster, they actually cared about what I had to say and asked thoughtful questions. I was starting to feel my symptoms of “Imposter Syndrome” nearly fade away. I walked away from the poster session feeling capable, deserving, and excited for what’s next.
With the poster presentation out of the way, I was able to spend the rest of the week however I wanted to. I networked with potential graduate school advisors, met scientists working on climate change resilience in indigenous communities, and made friends who shared my passions. I roamed through the the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History after hours with a bunch of geoscientists (which is just as awesome as it sounds). I spent some evenings attending networking events and others falling asleep in my hotel by 9 pm. By the end of each day my feet were throbbing, but it was always worth it.
As I sat waiting in the airport to leave D.C. on Saturday morning, I spent some time reflecting on my transformative week. AGU really is a playground for scientists, and it gave me a close up and personal look at the ways the sciences develop and are shared. I overcame powerful fears of public speaking and navigating professional relationships, and I even found out that I received an “Outstanding Student Presentation Award” for being among the top 5% of student presenters at AGU.
I got back from D.C. that night with a folder full of graduate school flyers and business cards, and a ton of gratitude for AGU for pushing me outside of my comfort zone and for Ryan, Heidi, and the Center for guiding and supporting me the whole way. One of my intentions heading into AGU was to get some sense of what my post-graduation steps might be, and it became clear to me that those steps could really be anything, in any corner of the world.