GSA - an unparalleled opportunity for students

Written by Ashley Salazar, BS Environmental Science '15

VANCOUVER – The moment I arrived at the 2014 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) – I knew I would be coming back in 2015. Indeed, I really wished I had attended last year. Even though I didn't present any research, just being at the conference and surrounded by amazing professionals and accomplished students gave me a great example of what I could accomplish at my next GSA meeting. Indeed, my first GSA meeting helped me develop an incredibly concrete perspective on who I could become as a scientist and the range of wonderful possibilities that I can look forward to in my career.

I've known about GSA for years. Every fall, all of the Earth and Environmental Science professors take a few days (to the delight of most of their students) to attend the annual meeting of this academic society and present research, go on field trips, host short courses, participate in shared governance, and to learn from their colleagues. The faculty in our department strongly encourage our fellow students to attend the conference and present the results of their research as well. Presentations take the form of either a short 15-20 minute talk or poster display. This year, I attended along with fellow students Gwen Alldredge ('15) and Jessica Robinson ('16).

This year, the meeting was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver is a beautiful city - picture a cleaner, more modern San Francisco, with maple trees and gorgeous clouds. I had some free time to visit Stanley Park, just a few minutes from the convention center and hotels. The maple trees had caught on to the change in seasons, dusting the sidewalk in leaves of green, red and orange. There was even a rose garden that still had flowers in bloom. I wish I had had time to visit the Vancouver Aquarium as well, but I had to content myself with browsing through the gift shop.

GSA does a lot of things to help student members attend the conference. Students are entitled to special, reduced rates for conference registration, are given several opportunities for social networking, free meals, and free stuff (Gotta love free stuff!). GSA also provides students with opportunities to volunteer to work up to 15 hours during the conference. In exchange, GSA waves the cost of their registration. However, the volunteer slots fill up quickly, so make sure to sign up fast! There are many other options for offsetting the cost of travel and hotel at Pacific too, including conference travel programs offered by ASUOP and Pacific Fund.

GSA helps students get connected. GSA is divided into a number of discipline-specific divisions that host events that are open to students. I attended the Hydrogeology Division Awards Luncheon, where I was able to meet many professionals, fellow students, and recent graduates that shared common interests. The conference also organizes a huge exhibit hall packed with booths filled by folks from a ton of of great graduate schools, vendors, government agencies, industry professionals, and national organizations. 

The conference is built around the main attractions – the technical sessions. Every day, dozens of separate technical sessions feature presentation (talks and posters) on every imaginable topic. With exciting titles like Mass Extinctions, It's a Cold, Cold World, or When Water Meets Rock, it can be hard to choose which session to attend sometimes! Indeed, we spend a fair bit of time picking through the program and jumping from session to session to try to catch specific talks. Some of my favorite talks included lectures on pygmy mammoth fossils discovered on islands off the coast of California and one about an invasive aquarium fish on the loose in a national park. Another great talk discussed the use of oxygen isotope ratios in bivalves as a way to document climate change in Alaska. 

All in all, GSA 2014 was a great experience! Fellow students, I highly recommend attending next year's conference in Maryland – especially if you are planning on presenting research or looking into graduate school. I am already making plans to attend one of the regional GSA meetings in Alaska in May 2015. Another great meeting to attend is the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference that meets in San Francisco every December.

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