In the middle of exams, papers, and upcoming deadlines, I attended the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Regional Conference at Penn State this week. As I attempted to review my organic chemistry notes on the four-hour car ride to the conference, I wondered if I had made the right decision in attending: I was not prepared for my orgo exam, I had an English paper due the day after, I was behind on my immunology course work, amongst other things. But as I began attending workshops, fun activities, and spending time with my other CBE classmates at the conference, my perspective completely changed. In this post, I will reflect on some of my takeaways from the conference and why I am grateful that I attended.
Want to explore something new, with absolutely no accountability? To meet a famous academic whose work you’ve used in class? To spend time with your favorite graduate students and professors outside of class? Try attending an academic conference at Princeton.
At any given time, at least one Princeton department or campus group is probably hosting a conference. Typically, these multi-day events gather leading academics, activists, and thinkers from around the world to discuss a particular issue or theme. Despite the significant cost of these conferences (and the tables full of free food), they are almost always free of charge and open to the public. Regardless of your department or academic interests, there is definitely a conference somewhere, sometime that will interest you.
Yes, it can be hard to drag ourselves to yet another hour of lectures and academic discussion – especially after a long day or week of classes. But conference presentations are often energizing in a way that classes aren’t. Presenters typically share their own work and opinions, rather than summarizing and explaining others’. And because they’re surrounded by their colleagues (and intellectual rivals), they often work to present their material in an engaging, memorable way. Many of the academic moments I remember most from the past few years took place at conference presentations.
Just a few weeks ago, I attended one of the best lectures I’ve ever heard at the Department of Comparative Literature’s Reading Matters conference. On Saturday evening, Professor Jack Halberstam from Columbia University delivered a lecture titled “Exit Routes: On Dereliction and Destitution.” He walked the audience through examples of “anarchitecture” (anarchist architecture), including a fascinating little-known feminist film, “Times Square,” about two rebellious women in 1980s New York. Weeks later, my friends and I are still discussing the talk (and rewatching the trailer for Times Square).
The nice thing about conferences – unlike classes – is you don’t have to go for the whole time. You can just pick your most favorite panel or lecture and attend for as long as you can! Typically, conference talks don’t last longer than an hour – and it’s completely okay to leave once the Q&A starts (I almost always do). I also try to sit in the back so it’s easy to leave early if I have to.
To find out about the conferences on campus, make sure to check your department’s bulletin boards and listservs regularly! You can also ask your professors or graduate student friends to send conference information your way when they come across them. The Princeton Events calendar features many campus conferences as well.
–Rafi Lehmann, Social Sciences Correspondent
Every year, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment organizes a conference where students, faculty, and industry professionals discuss research and innovations related to clean energy and other environmental solutions. The event features keynote speakers, faculty panels, poster presentations, amongst other sessions to introduce and highlight the work of different professionals. The purpose of this event is to educate students and professionals on new advances in energy technologyand to encourage even further research.
This year, I attended my first annual meeting, where I learned more about the clean energy research at Princeton and in New Jersey. In this article, I will reflect on some of the highlights from the event.
Phil Murphy’s Keynote Address
This year, the keynote speaker was Phil Murphy, the Governor of New Jersey. In his speech, Murphy addressed challenges in clean energy reforms, and suggested that innovation is essential to create environmental advances. He encouraged people to work together, because at these conferences, individuals can share ideas. Others can then step in and say “we can help.”
At the address, I sat next to fellow students from New Jersey, the CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), Ralph Izzo, and the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Emily Carter. Seeing individuals from different backgrounds coming together around a common goal reminded me of the importance of collaboration in research. While one lab cannot solve all of the energy problems in the state, the efforts of multiple people can. As institutional researchers, we are responsible for driving innovation and developing new technologies in our fields, thus it is important for us to collaborate in the lab and across the academic sector.
Faculty and Industry Panels
Amongst the discussions, faculty in various departments spoke about their research. Representatives from other universities and companies such as Orsted and ExxonMobil were also present to speak about energy visions and advances at their companies. The topics discussed ranged from ocean wind turbines to innovative approaches to produce biofuels and even new technologies for clean transportation. These panels were useful to observe where we stand in energy research and where we plan to go.
Undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdocs from different engineering and natural science departments presented their research in a symposium-style poster session. I presented on the research I did during my summer internship with the Andlinger Center.
Throughout the event, I spoke with some of the presenters situated around me. I heard from a postdoc in the mechanical engineering department, Guang, about research in fluid dynamics to harvest energy. I also heard from a senior in the chemistry department, Gabriella, about electrochemistry reactions related to energy. In addition to learning about interesting research, I learned that Guang had been a TA for MAE305, a course which I am currently taking, and Gabriella had taken multiple courses in the Portuguese department, where I am interested in getting a certificate.
As I heard this, I thought back to what Phil Murphy had mentioned. The purpose of academic conferences is to connect people and encourage collaborations. Not only are we researchers, we are also students that continue learning from others.
The Andlinger Center Annual Meeting is designed to further conversation on research and innovation. Regardless of your academic background, these issues impact the community as a whole, and it is important to learn about the future of energy and environmental concerns.
If you could not attend (or even if you did), I hope that my reflections serve to inform you about some of the conference highlights and I encourage you to attend events at the Andlinger Center throughout the year. In addition, learning through collaboration in research is not limited to the science field. You can also look for similar events and opportunities to learn through collaborative research in other departments by visiting the Office of Undergraduate Research event calendar.
–Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent
In the summer of 2016, it is difficult to find optimism in the field of environmental science.
Yet last month, I gathered with a throng of 2,500 coral reef scientists for the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu. Knowing the extent of the tragic coral bleaching and death that has unfolded on coral reefs this year, I expected a week of doom and gloom. But, to my surprise, the conference gave me more cause for hope than for pessimism.
This is not because the situation facing coral reefs is any better than I’d thought – if anything, it’s worse. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations, warming waters, and stagnant politics have put the biodiversity of coral reefs, along with many other ecosystems, into a sharp decline. On the Great Barrier Reef – a vibrant ecosystem so structurally significant that, unlike the Great Wall of China, it can be seen from space – nearly 25% of coral is dead, from this year’s bleaching alone. At one panel at ICRS, researchers shared photographs and time-lapse footage of coral bleaching and subsequent death around the world. As they flicked through photo after photo, the conference hall adopted the atmosphere of a funeral.
No, things are not looking good for coral reefs, or for many other ecosystems struggling to keep up with the whirlwind of environmental change that stems from human overpopulation, consumption, and industrialization. One scientist, Peter Sale, called coral reefs a “canary” in the proverbial coal mine that is our changing earth. “There are a whole bunch of canaries that are at risk,” Dr. Sale said. “And when the canaries go, our civilization goes.” Continue reading On Action and Optimism: Notes from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium