Some highlights of my trip (the quick-ish version):
-Dinner and sightseeing with blog friend Kim.
I really can't do this justice with the time I have now, but we had a
GREAT time. It is not often you meet someone in so identical a
life stage as you (especially when you are an early-career academic in the sciences with multiple small children) and we had lots to talk about. She met me at my hotel
at 3:00 and, when asked what I wanted to do, I said "let's walk!" We
saw EVERYTHING and returned to the hotel completely exhausted just
before nine. We had the most wonderful cup of hot chocolate at
Ghiradelli and a delicious garlicky dinner at the Stinking Rose before walking
through Chinatown on our way back. When she got home she mapped our
route and learned that we'd walked 5.6 miles! It was the perfect
not-too-cold night for it and her company was the best part. You are
welcome in South anytime, Kim!
-Dinner and more Chinatown with blog friend Sarah! Again, someone I met online who is now a real friend. We last saw each other in person several years ago at BlogHer and were able to pick right up where we'd left off. Which is to say, drinking wine in a swanky restaurant talking really, really loud. I had the thought "Wow, I think I'm talking too loud" about ten seconds before she said "I feel like I'm being really loud!" We covered a lot of ground, but I especially enjoyed talking politics. We're two peas in a pod there. Our Italian dinner was wonderful (including the best salad OF MY LIFE) and then we set out on foot for Chinatown so I could buy some souvenirs for the kids. Most things were closed when we got there, but we had a really nice walk, including climbing the most enormous hill I have ever seen.
Seriously, it was ridiculous. And it just kept going and going.
-Lunch with another blog friend, WhitMc! She is lovely and also very helpfully reminded me to get a picture of us together before she had to go back to work, something I'd forgotten to do with Sarah and Kim.
We had lunch with a view on top of Macy's in Union Square (this was taken from our table, it was spectacular).
We compared notes about our awesome husbands and awesome kids and our jobs and future plans and priorities. It was like we'd known each other far longer than the few months we've been online friends. She is an ambitious attorney and had lots of great thoughts about the jobs vs. family question and was in general just really fun to talk to. We had a great time.
-The conference. OMG THE CONFERENCE. I am so glad I came. SO GLAD. I am going to be processing this for weeks to come, but let me try to summarize it in one word for you now:
The AGU conference is HUGE, first of all, with physical scientists from every field imaginable. When I say "huge", I mean there were 16,000 attendees, three large conference centers, and 20,000 talks, lectures, workshops, and posters! Monday morning I stepped out of my hotel and into a throng of geoscientists that snaked its way the whole five blocks to the conference center, interrupted only by "don't walk" signs and the occasional open coffee shop door. As I walked I heard snippets of conversation about this research project and that, this field trip to Antarctica, that crazy moment in South America, and the concentration of ozone over Greenland in 1990 vs 2012. It was so energizing to be among the crowd of people so passionate about their work. Everywhere I went in the city I played "spot the scientist" and it wasn't hard. Some people even had their name tags on far from the conference center or were carrying their poster tubes around with them. I loved it.
I especially enjoyed the sessions on global climate change education at
the undergraduate level and the keynote address by author Simon Winchester (so, so good, will be buying and reading Atlantic very, very soon).
Two workshops were the absolute highlight of the conference for me. Tuesday I spent the afternoon at one called "Starting a Research Program at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution," that sounded like a good fit after reading about it in the program. The first part was a very informative series of talks about ways to involve undergrads in research, resources available to undergrad institutions, and that sort of thing and then we split into groups (groups of FOUR PEOPLE, I was not expecting this kind of one-on-one attention, it was a dream come true, honestly) and talked with NSF program officers about ideas and questions and ways to make our proposals better. The NSF guy said he had remembered my proposal and we discussed some ways I could improve it for the next round, which was intimidating, but really, really helpful. He was very approachable and helpful and not The Great And Powerful Oz, like I had been picturing in my mind.
The second workshop that proved extremely informative and helpful was called Integrating Quantitative Skills into your Geoscience Courses. I thought it might be helpful as I prepare to teach Earth Science again this spring, but I did not realize how truly, mind-blowingly helpful it was going to be. We were guided through website after website of educational modules that are exactly perfect for my class and lab. And then, during the free time we had to work on our syllabi, I had a conversation with the person next to me who just happened to be teaching the same class, but with the benefit of multiple years of experience and a DEGREE IN PEDAGOGY. She sent me her syllabus and walked me through her reasoning for structuring her course the way she did (which was much better than my method which was "the table of contents told me to do it this way"). Together we came up with some good in-class activities to reinforce quantitative skills while teaching earth science concepts relevant to the course.
I never expected to be surrounded by such a crowd of lovely, helpful people as I was here and I am so, so grateful. My class, my research, and my career are going to be so much better for it.
On that note, I received an email while here that an abstract I submitted to another conference that's in October was accepted and that I should submit the accompanying twelve-page article by the end of April. It is very exciting, but the energy and motivation I've gained here along with the prospect of totally rearranging my course and writing a new article (with yet-to-be complete analysis) gives me the feel of being on a runaway train and it will be interesting to see what happens when idealism and excitement of this week crashes up against the realities of my normal, extremely hectic life. I really hope to continue the momentum I've gained here because it is worth it. If there's one thing I can take away from this experience, it's that I love being a scientist, I love science education, and it's worth pushing through these awkward part-time years.
In fact, the only bad part about the week was that these guys weren't here to share it with me:
I can't wait to get home!