Banner picture source: https://www.sacnas.org/2018-sacnas/
The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) celebrated its 2018 annual national conference at San Antonio, Texas.
This was my first time ever at a SACNAS national conference, and it was as amazing as everyone said. I had been aware of the existence of SACNAS since my undergraduate years. Everyone had always said how amazing the experience of a SACNAS conference can be. I was skeptical of these comments; however, I can now assure you that they are not exaggerations. SACNAS is unlike any other conference I have been to.
What makes SACNAS a unique conference?
What makes SACNAS unique is the “feeling like home” experience. Every person that I spoke to told me that they had this feeling every time they attend SACNAS. Throughout the conference it is regularly emphasized that they offer a safe space. These are not just words; you can see this in action during workshops and seminars where the audience feels encouraged to speak up about the issues they face as underrepresented groups.
This idea of a safe space was also demonstrated with some of the topics the keynote and featured speakers brought up. Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first latina in space, talked about how she almost convinced herself out of applying to NASA because of the caliber of people that apply. Ed Young, science journalist at The Atlantic, talked about how who you are shapes the science you do. Dr. Lauren Esposito, curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, talked about the challenges queer scientists face in their careers. All the speakers at some point mentioned worries/concerns/obstacles that are in the mind of everyone that belongs to an underrepresented group, but often are not given the forum to express/address/work through.
I networked at SACNAS more effectively than I had ever before. Networking is difficult, especially in the digital age where spontaneous interactions are scarce. However, because of the environment that SACNAS creates, you find yourself networking without even realizing it.
I met Joshua Hall from the podcast HelloPhD!
One of the times I networked without thinking about it was when I met Dr. Joshua Hall. Recently, I decided to start listening to podcasts while I do mechanical lab work. As I tried to make a list of podcasts I wanted to listen to, I remembered that Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer was interviewed in a podcast named HelloPhD. This is how I found out about Dr. Joshua Hall, who along with Dr. Daniel Arneman, runs HelloPhD. Fast forward to SACNAS 2018, where, during lunch, I saw Joshua Hall’s tweet saying that he is at the conference. I decided to reply that I was there too and that I wanted to meet him.
I replied to a tweet from Dr. Joshua Hall asking to meet him. (Twitter: @jdhallphd)
That afternoon he showed up at my poster. We introduced ourselves, talked about his podcast, and about life as a PhD student. He then asked me if I wanted to give him my presentation, I had forgotten I was in front of my poster, so after a brief moment of loading “presentation mode” into my brain I started. The first thing I did was ask if he was familiar with plant immunity, my area of research. Joshua said he had rotated several years ago in Dr. Jeff Dangl’s laboratory, which also studies plant immunity. I could not believe it … Dr. Dangl is my advisor’s post-doctoral advisor. What a small world!
I wanted to share this experience to encourage students to reach out, you never know what great conversations and connections you may develop.
At SACNAS 2018 with Dr. Joshua Hall from the podcast HelloPhD.
If you are a student (at any level) you should follow Joshua’s podcast. Click here to go to the HelloPhd podcast website.
A story of persistence
I served as a mentor judge for undergraduate poster presentations. When the session started, I immediately went to the first poster and presented myself as her mentor judge. After talking to her, I stepped back to fill out the evaluation form. However, another student came to me and told me that he was given the same poster number as the student I just talked to and he wanted to get feedback. This was my first time attending a SACNAS national conference and I had an awesome experience, so I wanted him (and everyone there) to have the same experience. I apologized and promised to look for an evaluation sheet so that I could give him a score and written feedback.
I finished the first student’s evaluation and went to get another evaluation sheet. Unfortunately, the extra evaluation sheets were outside the Exhibit Hall and I would lose valuable time going outside. I decided to go to the closest exhibitor’s booth and get a piece of promotional material that I could write an evaluation on. I found one and ripped it in half. I took one half and wrote the skeleton of the evaluation sheet and in the other half, I copied the scoring sheet that I had to hand out to the staff at the end of the session. I ran back to the student’s poster and explained to him what I had done. He thanked me for my effort and went on to explain his research.
His name is Lambert Ngenzi, an undergraduate from Washington State University. Lambert investigates the efficiency of a computer program used to survey bodies of water through imaging. The study had the right controls and logical analyses, however what was striking was the motivation behind it. Lambert explained that he is originally from the Congo in Africa, where his community struggles with clean water availability. Ultimately, he wants to attend graduate school to research water quality and management. He wants to apply his research to his home country, which he explained has a fast growing population (more information here). I was amazed. It is not often that you see an undergraduate student that knows how they want to help their community. I went on to encourage him and explained that he already has what a lot of graduate students lack: a direct connection of their research to their community.
The next morning, during the presentations’ awards ceremony, Lambert’s name came up as one of the awardees. I am sharing this to show how, when you know in your heart that what you are doing is right, persistence will bring amazing results.
At SACNAS 2018 with Lambert Ngenzi after he received the award for best poster presentation in his category.
What do I find at the SACNAS conference?
The SACNAS national conference has everything from sessions on specific science topics to workshops on grant writing. Below are pictures of the title screens for some of the sessions I attended:
Some of the session I attended at SACNAS 2018.
Why should I attend the SACNAS conference?
I will definitely try to attend the SACNAS national conference every year that I can. It is an opportunity to: 1) connect with your network and expand on it, 2) help undergraduates and your peers with their communication skills, 3) present your research to a group with a diverse scientific background, and last but not least 4) recharge your energy. Every one that attended SACNAS leaves with many new ideas and connections/relationships, but something this conference is unique in giving you are new batteries. If I can emerge from a conference in Texas recharged, I can only imagine how amplified this recharge will be next year in Hawaii.
I hope to see you at SACNAS 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaii!
Acknowledging my travel funding sources
- National Institutes of Health training grant T32 GM086252 (CMBP)
- College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Travel Award
- Berl Oakley Travel Award from the Department of Molecular Genetics
More pictures of SACNAS 2018