Stepping up to the Plate

When I originally conceived of this post 2 months ago I thought it would be a reflection of my experiences presenting my research at a major science conference for the first time.

It has since morphed into something else.

The third week of December I joined 20,000 of my colleagues in

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AGU was held at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco

the Earth Sciences at the 2016 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. I was one of around 8,000 students who arrived in San Francisco to present one of the 15,000 posters that would be displayed over the course of the week. It’s hard to describe the emotions of a graduate student attending their first conference. Its how I imagine a promising pitcher feels when they walk into a big league locker room after having been called up from the minors. They have left the relative comfort of the minor leagues, and are now face to face with their idols, the people they have admired in their profession from afar, never thinking it possible that they could one day compete on that level. They must ask themselves: “am I good enough to be here?”

For me, AGU is “The Show.” To join the men and women that have inspired my career choice, that have fed a lifetime of curiosity and discovery was a tremendous and daunting honor for me. As one can imagine I set out to relish every second of that week, read every poster shown, and attend every talk possible. Those of you that have lived a similar experience may find, as I have, one of the great ironies of life is that the moments we want to hold on to the most seem to slip by the fastest.

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Round table discussions with conference leaders

I suppose that the reason I have put this post off for so long, in addition to my normal procrastination was that, even though I had a indescribably wonderful time, there was an unmistakable pallor about the entire week. That even to this day there is a sword of Damocles hanging over our field’s metaphorical head, and that to acknowledge it, is to tempt it to fall. It is a strange feeling for a graduate student to be concerned for the fate of the field he or she is preparing to join. I, like many of my fellow conference attendees, may worry that I might not have a job, I might not have access to the funding I once did, but I can say that I am personally not worried for the fate of earth science.

In the days and weeks since the conference many of those apprehensions have been realized, others have yet to be addressed. But I find myself reminiscing about my time with my friends and colleagues and I draw strength and hope from my memories of that forum. You see, our field, while under attack, has something to say about our global state of affairs. Whatever may be said about us, at our core we are truth seekers, and there is nothing more powerful than truth. It cannot be denied, though some may try.

I know this because for a week in December I was surrounded by scientists that love what they do, and will stand up to defend it. I also saw a body of people that will not be divided or fragmented. I joined colleagues from all walks of life, from every corner of the globe, and was reminded that to those seeking to solve problems, and tackle big issues, diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective are the greatest tools that we have. We are motivated, not by any particular agenda, but by an inherent sense of discovery, exploration, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. This is the only approach to tackling global problems, to addressing our unknown questions.

Upon reflection I find that I am not concerned for the fate of earth science, but I am enlivened by the challenges we face, and excited for the opportunity to overcome them.

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Presenting my poster at the general Ocean Science poster session

This is the show after all, and like my fellow students and aspiring scientist, we are ready to show what we’ve got.

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About Drew Burrier

Drew is a graduate student in Physical Oceanography at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, as a member of the Physical Oceanography lab. His thesis focuses on internal wave dynamics in submarine canyons. He is a natural born gypsy, having grown up in Cleveland, Ohio, and rambled through Tennessee, Colorado, and Illinois before finally answering the long call of the sea. He now lives in Monterey, with his lovely wife and two dogs.
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