California Sea Grant provides unique educational opportunities for graduate students in the form of 12-month paid fellowships. Evyan Borgnis is currently completing her fellowship at the California Coastal Conservancy.
The following is a guest post from Evyan.
Throughout my research career, I have attended, presented and volunteered at more than twelve scientific conferences ranging from local conferences focused on San Francisco Bay-Delta to presenting my graduate work at an international conference in Argentina. From these experiences, I joined the 12th annual Headwaters to Ocean (H20) conference organizing committee as a California Sea Grant State Fellow with boldness and a belief that I had “seen it all.” How quickly my arrogance faded upon facing the intricate process of selecting and coordinating presenters, sessions, space, food, volunteers, sponsors, exhibitors, attendees and equipment! However, with the strong support and skill of fellow organizing committee members, I was able to develop new programs and even fight to keep aspects of the conference that were soon to expire due to limited funds. Participating in H20 as an organizer allowed me to enjoy a scientific conference like I never had before.
The Challenge to Recruit Students
At my first organizing committee meeting, I sensed that members were unsatisfied with the amount of student participation in past years. Feeding off that concern, I was able to successfully propose hosting a Student Poster Session. I hoped H20’s student participation would increase by offering an event for students with a first-place prize incentive. While I did hit some road blocks and resistance along the way, I was able to achieve my goal with approximately 25 students (out of 250 total attendees) registered in the event, 14 students presenting in the competition, and Taylor Debevec from the Bren School at UCSB winning $100 dollars as the first place winner. As a recent graduate, I was thrilled that I was able to provide more opportunities for students to learn from and network with professionals in the field.
Cutting Costs, Not Corners
At another committee meeting, members expressed that H20 would no longer provide paper programs in order to cut costs. Although I personally thrive in today’s digital age, at a conference I need that visceral experience that comes with circling presentation titles and writing notes directly into a program. I decided to seek out external funding to solve this dilemma. While I was successful in securing those funds, another issue reared its head: the program cover would need to be designed. I decided to coordinate the design process to ensure H20 had a modern and professional program. After teaming up with a designer at the Coastal Conservancy, Kara Kemmler, we were able to develop a simple and beautiful program. (See the final result in the gallery below.)
The Meeting of Minds
One of my most rewarding achievements at H20 was the two-part session I developed and coordinated entitled “Wetland Monitoring.” My sharp and supportive supervisor, Megan Cooper, first had the idea to gather scientists and practitioners conducting wetland monitoring throughout southern California in a room to discuss coordinating efforts on a regional scale. I decided to run with this idea and contacted various monitoring scientists throughout the region asking them to contribute to a session at H20. I received such an overwhelmingly positive response that this session was expanded into two sessions! At a time when I was struggling to grasp how to further develop the Southern California Wetland Recovery Project’s regional monitoring program, this session provided a needed forum to share next steps and develop professional connections for wetland monitoring coordination.
Cultivating Conference Confidence
My Sea Grant fellowship has provided me with numerous opportunities to develop new skills and network with professionals thus far. Being a part of the H20 organizing committee gave me a sense of purpose that I had never experienced at a conference before. This confidence helped me pursue intimidating scientists and managers throughout the conference and I intend to carry this conviction with me to all other professional meetings in my future.
Written by Evyan Borgnis