Posts Tagged ‘conference’

Astronomy + Dance + Friends = Awesome

December 3, 2009

Whew! I’ve just about recovered from last week’s activities, and finally have some time to post again. Here’s what I got up to.

At the end of every year the graduate students in my department host a one-day conference for Astronomy students from all over Australia. I have no idea how this tradition got started (lost in the mists of time, I suspect) but it’s a fantastic idea and it always turns out to be a great day. At the start of the year a committee of four or five students is appointed to do all the organising, but of course one person is in charge, to coordinate the others and do the major jobs. This year, I volunteered for the job. Although it turned out to be more work than I expected, it was such a valuable experience and I don’t regret it at all. At times it was stressful, but it’s so pleasing when something you’ve been organising for ages goes off well. And this year, it turned out to be even bigger than ever.

2009 was officially designated the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), so Astronomy outreach events have been happening all around the world all year. After I advertised our little conference at the major Astronomy conference I went to in July, I was contacted by the Australian IYA coordinator. She suggested that we should celebrate IYA by running an extra session at our conference: a workshop on how to Dance Your PhD.


I first heard of the concept of Dance Your PhD about a year ago, and it’s basically what it sounds like—communicating your research through movement. There is an international competition run every year, and lots of people do it just for fun too. You can find heaps of examples on YouTube—make sure you read the blurbs so you know what they’re trying to describe. I mean, how awesome is that?! And the best thing is that you can interpret ‘dance’ however you want—ballet, mime, tango, hip hop, random movements to music, whatever.

As a lifelong dancer and dance-lover, of course I was immediately hooked. And so, after doubling my organisational commitments, the idea culminated in a day-long workshop which we held on Thursday, with the help of a physical theatre artist from Melbourne. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time—prancing around pretending to be a tidally-stripped dwarf galaxy or waving my arms impersonating a radio telescope—you just can’t beat it. You can’t. And the idea appealed to so many people that we ended up occupying most of the science page in Sunday’s paper.

The next day, Friday, was the conference proper. Again, everything went off spectacularly well. We had several interstate students, both old friends and new, who were able to attend—someone even came from Perth! Everyone gave such high-quality talks, either about their research or about another part of Astronomy that interests them. And because we’re students, we have a bit of fun: every year some of the talks are cleverly funny in that very scientific way, audience members who ask questions get space-themed confectionery in return (mars bars and milky ways ftw!), and talking beyond your allotted time will get you shot with nerf guns. And of course there’s the networking and socialising over morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and the celebratory dinner. A dinner which, this year, was augmented by a performance of the routines developed at the Dance Your PhD workshop the day before.

The two days were so wonderful, especially after all the work I put into making them happen. And of course thanks also to the lovely people who helped me all the way, and went above and beyond on the day. You know who you are, and you’re the best :)

Here’s to next year’s conference!


I am now officially a published author

October 19, 2009

Look what arrived last week:

conference proceedings

the proceedings for the conference I went to in Santa Fe earlier this year. And on page 122 is my little paper, all professionally printed and bound up with everyone else’s. Squee!

Conference proceedings aren’t the most highly regarded forms of publication in the academic community, but to a newbie like me that hardly matters. And anyway, once Monthly Notices gets their act together, I’ll have a proper publication to crow about!

Conferences are not sleep-friendly

July 9, 2009

Despite the title, this is not going to be a grumpy post. I’ve been having a great time in Melbourne, but unfortunately I’ve had such a great time I haven’t taken any photos (not a single one) so you’ll just have to imagine the wonderful things I describe.

The conference I’m here in Melbourne for—the annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia, or ASA—is the biggest event of the Australian Astronomer’s calendar. Many Astronomers from Universities all around Australia, and just about all the students, converge for five days of scientific talks, scientific posters, and somewhat scientific drinking (Drinking has a science, right? right??). I managed to come down with a cold on the first day so my week has included a bit less alcohol and a bit more sleep than I planned (and in comparison to most other students!) but I’ve still managed to do my share of networking. That seems to be mainly what conferences are about—the social stuff that goes on after the talks have finished for the day. (Before I left, my supervisor asked me somewhat sardonically whether I’d get any work done this week. But everyone here agrees that the drinking—sorry, ‘networking’—is just as important as the science. I think next time I’ll say, ‘you can’t spell networking without work!’)

I was a little disappointed with the selection of talks this year—too much cosmology and galaxy Astronomy and too little stellar Astronomy for my taste—but overall the quality of the science has been really good. This is heartening as Australia isn’t really one of the heavyweights in the International Astronomical community. But two of my friends and fellow students gave really good talks, and one of them even got a prize—very well-deserved. I gave a poster again this year (wasn’t successful in my application for a talk) and was lucky enough to be awarded the prize for best student poster! Which made my week.

Socially this week has been great, and it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to discover a bit more of Melbourne. We’ve been to a fancy wine bar to learn the intricacies of wine-tasting and try some wonderful cheese. We walked to a quirky but fantastic Greek restaurant where we never saw a menu but ate the most amazing food. We’ve sneaked out of talks to go shopping in Fitzroy, the City, and Prahran, where I got some cute and unique jewellery. We’ve drunk cocktails with names like ‘Lawn bowls on a hot Melbourne day’ and ‘Things to do in Denver when you’re dead’. We’ve taken trams, buses, trains, and we’ve walked. Oh, we’ve walked. All our feet are sore, but the choice between catching the last tram or staying for one more drink is not really a choice at all. Not when you’re meeting new people, and having a proper chat with old friends in a new environment. It’s been lovely.

But, as I said, it hasn’t been sleep-friendly. To our credit, despite the late nights that were actually early mornings we’ve hardly missed any morning sessions. The ready availability of good coffee in Melbourne has helped with that. But I’m looking forward to the weekend, to staying with Libby’s parents, to cups of tea and early nights and time on the couch. And then discovering a different part of Melbourne, and hopefully shaking off this cold. And, of course, doing it all again next time.


May 27, 2009

Please excuse the recent quietness—life has been a bit hectic the last couple of weeks. I’m making a trip to the USA soon (three sleeps!) and have been busy planning this, as well as organising another trip to Melbourne, trying to keep up with work, and getting over my cold.

It’s hard to believe I’m leaving so soon. I’ve been planning this trip for months and it’s always seemed so far away, and now it is suddenly upon me. It’s my first professional trip overseas—I’m going to a conference on Stellar Pulsation, something that’s very closely linked to my thesis. It will also be the first time I’ve given a talk about my research outside my home institution, which makes me kind of nervous but kind of excited! As little as a year ago the prospect of giving a talk about my research to professional Astronomers gave me the willies. But sometime in the last year that seems to have disappeared. Maybe it has something to do with the workshop on presenting I did in November? Maybe it’s that I finally feel like I’m beginning to know what I’m talking about? In any case this is a good thing, because giving talks will be a major part of my career.

In between writing my talk, organising my flights, applying for travel grants and goodness knows what else, I’ve managed to find out a little about Santa Fe (where the conference is) and am looking forward to exploring it in the limited free time I’ll have there. Finding out where the yarn shops are has of course been a priority. I’m also lucky enough to be visiting a friend in Boston as well, and I’m excited about both catching up and seeing this beautiful city. The whole trip is less than two weeks, so it’ll be a bit of a whirlwind, but I’m determined to pack as much as possible into that time—scientifically, socially, and culturally. I’ve always loved discovering new places.

With any luck, I’ll be able to post some updates of my adventures while I’m away, so stay tuned!