11 December 2018

Far from the science-ing crowd

Posted by Jessica Ball

This year, sadly, I’m not attending AGU’s Fall Meeting. It’s partly personal choice –  I have several big projects scheduled for December and January – and partly that I don’t want to make two cross-country flights to go to a meeting and head home for the holidays (the timing doesn’t line up well). It’s also partly because in the USGS (and in the government in general), our choice of conferences to attend has to be made carefully due to budget and personnel caps. I was fortunate to get send to Cities On Volcanoes in Naples back in September, but that was my big spendy conference for the year.

However, that doesn’t mean my work is going unrepresented. There are going to be multiple talks about the recent Kilauea eruption – where I was involved in both the monitoring and media response – as well as workshops from the Thriving Earth Exchange and social media/blogging crews. Check them out below:

The roots of the difficulty for government scientists in attending conferences can be traced back to that whole Vegas thing, which resulted in all federal workers being restricted in what conferences they could attend. I can understand that, to an extent, because conferences and the travel associated with them are expensive, and agencies need to use their budgets wisely.

It’s a tough situation for those affected, and even more so when scientists are involved. Scientists are famous for being loners, but we actually have to rely a lot on our peers – for review, for collaborations that are more likely to get funded than solo research, to share ideas and advances, for career-advancing training. Conferences are the most efficient way to do that. The era of the lone scientist is long past, and big meetings where we can get together, see what everyone is doing, hear the newest theories and advances, and keep connections open and alive, are really important.

It’s especially important for early-career scientists, who are still building those connections and trying to get our research out there in the community. I have the security of a permanent position at the USGS, but communication and collaboration is still critically important to my job. It’s also important for me to interact with scientists outside of my immediate research center. It’s so very easy to become insular and pay little attention to what’s going on outside your office or lab, and I definitely don’t work well that way.

So I’ll be seeing you all at next year’s Fall Meeting when it returns to San Francisco and it’s once again a ‘local’ for me. Enjoy the scienceing in DC, geo-friends!

In case you’d like to read more about the importance of conferences and the challenges facing scientists who have trouble attending them, here are a few good articles to start you off: