Elizabeth Castner at ESAReflecting on the 99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

For scientists, conferences are times of communication, collaboration, and celebration. They come to share their work and ideas and meet old and new friends and collaborators. A conference is a good time to step back and reflect on the relevance of one’s work and learn from other scientists. This August, I attended the Ecological Society of America’s 99th annual meeting in Sacramento, CA to present my senior thesis research.

As a first-time attendee, this convergence of more than 3,000 scientists was both exciting and overwhelming, because of the sheer number of events and range of topics. At check in, I declined the textbook size paper guide to the conference (in favor of the newfangled app), but did accept the famous ESA tote bag, which has been the official conference swag for a very, very long time. Perhaps since 1865.

A few things I learned during the week: city lot maintenance is a public health issue, because of ragweed; delta smelt (a fish endemic to Northern California) smells like cucumber; the ROTC advice of “Be sincere, be brief, be seated” applies to science communication; the trees outside the convention center in Sacramento are painted blue as part of a project bringing awareness to global deforestation; and poster sessions are tons of fun.

One of my biggest takeaways from this conference was getting to see the nebulous “scientific community” in action. There were talks aplenty on current research, but I also got the chance to attend sessions about interacting with policy makers, promoting interdisciplinary research, presenting science to varied audiences, and developing new tools for teaching. These talks made more of an impact on me than many of the research talks because they provided insight into how scientists and others working at the intersection of scientific and policy domains think about ecology. That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I begin to navigate my post-undergraduate path.

Another great thing about the conference was getting to talk to scientists at different stages of their careers. I always want to know how people got where they are and what it’s really like to be, say, an associate professor or to work for a non-profit organization. I think anyone in my position would benefit from that kind of networks. So fellow alums and current students, I encourage you to attend conferences and build your professional network, whatever your field of interest.

– Elizabeth (Izzy) Castner

Class of 2014 (ScB in Environmental Science), Brown University


Izzy’s ESA trip was supported by the Voss Environmental Fellows Program, The Rathmann Family Foundation, and her generous family.


To network with current and past Voss fellows, contact Heather_Leslie(at)brown.edu to join our Facebook group.