The SACNAS conference is always informative, fun, inspirational, therapeutic, and motivating. But - although I might have said this last year - this year seemed to be the best yet. I believe it's because it was my first conference since my diagnosis. Not only did I have more energy, but I also felt like it helped improve my networking skills. Before, anxiety would prevent me from approaching people or fully engaging with them. Without anxiety, I had the confidence to approach people and be myself. It was also filled with memorable events, which I felt more fully engaged in and appreciated more than previous years. I could write a book on everything that happened. Instead, I'll share a couple of anecdotes from that week, followed by a list of highlights.
I arrived in San Jose on Wednesday morning. My Aunt Stella, actually my maternal grandmother's sister and mom's aunt, and Uncle Pete picked me up from the airport. We first went to the mall so that I could buy jeans from Express because they sell jeans for short people. I tried to buy jeans in Chile but all of the jeans I found were regular length, which I don't understand because most Chileans are shorter than me. Then we went to In N Out for lunch, where I ate a double-double protein-style. I had been fantasizing about that moment for weeks and it was just as good as I had imagined. We spent the rest of the day running errands, like picking up their grandkids from school. Then that night my cousins Fred, John, and Gina (including two of her four kids) came over for a taco dinner. Here we are after a delicious meal:
Fred, me, Aunt Stella, Uncle Pete, and Gina
The conference began on Thursday morning. Here are some highlights from SACNAS 2011:
1. Hanging out with friends from graduate school, including:
My former undergraduate student and dancing buddy, Marlene
My former neighbors and Ethiopian food buddies, Gloriana and David
2. I co-chaired a scientific symposium titled 'Let Nature Be Your Guide: Innovation in Bio-inspired Engineering'. The highlight of the session for me was that a Chicano professor, Gabriel Lopez from Duke University, accepted our invitation to talk about his research in the field. Then myself and my colleagues at Harvard, Yolanda Vasquez and James Weaver, gave talks about our research. Here's a photo of Yolanda giving her talk:
3. My current student, Melanie, won an award for her poster presentation. She is a Chilean undergraduate student at UMass Boston. She won for presenting a poster on a project she had done last summer at UMass. I'm sure she won because the judges recognized what an articulate, smart, funny, and friendly person she is. I was also impressed by her networking skills. Even though it was her first SACNAS conference, a couple of people told me that they met her without my introduction and were impressed by her!
Here we are having dinner:
Here's her name on the jumbotron during the awards ceremony:
4. The 'Blogging, Tweeting, and Writing: How an Online Presence Can Impact Science and Your Career ' session, which is a new professional development session at SACNAS. I attended because I really enjoy writing this blog and was hoping I would learn new and wonderful things to enhance it and even justify writing it. It ended up being one of the most important professional development sessions I've ever attended at SACNAS.
Alberto Roca introduced the session by presenting the benefits of blogging and using social media. He explained how blogging is great for professional development because it can be used to develop writing skills and network with other professionals in science. But my favorite was how bloggers from underrepresented groups can increase representation of diversity issues in the media, which is exactly why I started this blog. After my diagnosis, I started following Paleo and nutrition blogs online. But I quickly noticed that most of the bloggers were white and male, and the only posts I had read about food access issues and how dietary recommendations impact minority communities were posted by a Filipino (www.fitbomb.com). Alberto also listed other minority bloggers, which I am looking forward to following online.
Then two popular bloggers presented: David Kroll, a professor at the HBCU North Carolina Central University, and Danielle Lee, an instructor at University of Missouri St. Louis. David writes two popular science blogs, Terra Sigillata (cenblog.org/terra-sigillata) and Take as Directed (blogs.plos.org/takeasdirected), while Danielle is the author of Urban Science Adventures (urban-science.blogspot.com) and publishes on Everyday Citizen (www.everydaycitizen.com/dlee/index.html). David described the evolution of his online presence and I was surprised to hear that he has been invited to publish in journals such as Science and Nature, the two top journals in our field, where his science hadn't even been published. Danielle was a joy to listen to, and not only because of her Southern accent. She gave an energetic presentation about how blogging can impact your science and gave some examples of popular blogs related to science, teaching, and outreach.
During the question and answer session, I stood up and introduced myself and my blog, including the reason why I started it. I also asked how I can get my blog out to a wider audience because right now it's mostly for family and friends. They suggested I post comments on other blogs I follow, which was something I had never thought about before. After the session, I met Alberto, David, and Danielle (who is so adorable that I just had to have a hug) and ended up with a couple of projects to collaborate on. Alberto Roca invited me to the ScienceOnline 2012 conference in North Carolina while David asked if I would give a workshop on writing personal statements to his undergraduate students. I'm super excited at the prospect of working with such a great group of people!
5. The annual SACNAS Pachanga! This year a Cumbia band, complete with an accordion, performed.
6. The annual SACNAS Pow wow. How many other scientific conferences have a Pachanga AND Pow Wow? That would be zero. Just another reason why SACNAS is so awesome.
This year it took place at the San Jose Civic auditorium:
7. Anticipating next year's conference in Seattle, Washington. The theme is titled 'Creating a Healthy World through Science, Diversity, and Technology.' I plan to organize a session on nutrition tentatively titled 'The Science of Nutrition and how it affects our health, happiness, and productivity', which will fit in perfectly with next year's conference theme.
Finally, I returned to Chile on Monday morning. After Mariluz and Simeón picked me up from the airport, we picked up Simeón's sister, Adriana, and her grandson, Carlitos, before driving to a cemetery near Las Cruces where Simeón's parents and family members are buried. It was my first Día de los Muertos celebration, although they do it a little differently than in Mexico. Mariluz and Simeón cleaned and placed fresh flowers at the graves. The other Chileans I observed were also cleaning but some were even refreshing inscriptions on or repairing headstones. I had bought a sugar skull and coffin in California to place at the graves, which Mariluz didn't appreciate at first until her nephew told her that Día de los Muertos is celebrated a little differently in Mexico. Here's a photo of their family plot, with a Mexican touch:
After recovering yesterday from jet lag and running some errands, I was out first thing this morning for a 10 am tide to photograph barnacle settlement. I'll share photos tomorrow.