The year 2015 started off with a trip to Seattle to attend the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). I just became a member of the AAS (for which I’m grateful to my sponsors Kathryn Johnston and Jerry Ostriker!), and so this was the first time for me to attend one of these ginormous, annual meetings. When I first looked at the program, I was impressed (not to say overwhelmed) by the number of attendees, the variety of splinter meetings, and by the quality & quantity of career opportunities. This impression didn’t change much throughout the week.
About 3000 astronomers from all over the world (but mostly the US) come to the traditional winter meeting. All fields, subfields, and niches of astronomy are present. So whatever you’re looking for you’ll find it there. On top of that, many companies, institutions and media representatives show up at this meeting. It’s the one time of the year where astronomy makes big news and big business.
Now, usually a conference has about 100 participants from one discipline of which maybe 50 will give a talk of about 20-30 min. At the AAS meeting, talks are only 5 minutes, and the sessions are very mixed. Hence, it’s much more favorable to present a poster – which I did (see above). I haven’t presented a poster in years, so I was skeptical in the beginning. But now after this meeting I’m a big fan of posters! The interactions you have while standing in front of your poster are much deeper and more fruitful than what you get from a talk. Without the big audience listening, people can and will ask dumb questions, which turn out to be not dumb at all. They make you realize what you can’t realize during a talk – how many people in the audience don’t get what you’re doing because you didn’t bother to explain.
Besides the poster, I enjoyed many helpful career sessions, a packed (!) impostor-syndrome session, a memorable astronomer party, and lots of great food and coffee with amazing colleagues and friends. The whole event is really more of a big party than a conference. Thus, I’m looking forward to the next winter meeting in Florida – even though beautiful and coffee-loving Seattle is hard to beat as a venue!