Sunday, April 2, 2017

LPSC: A Play-by-Play

In this post, Jasmeer presents his LPSC diary.
Above:
The PVL contingent at LPSC this year, taken just outside the conference hotel.

by Jasmeer Sangha


Day 0
Today is the unofficial start to my first conference: the 48th LPSC just outside Houston, Texas. I, along with five other members of PVL, have made this  trip together. Travelling here from Toronto was smooth and uneventful. On arrival, the group decided to register ourselves and pick up our name tags. Finger foods were provided and it was a good opportunity to see some familiar faces before the ensuing presentations. It was particularly interesting to compare how we had all advanced in our research from different branches of the same general field. I could not help but notice our supervisors doing the same. Initially, I did not think the cost-benefit of this conference was that substantial, but I can already see how this collection of experts in one location can really improve interconnectedness of our small corner in the science community.

Day 1
                  My day began at 6:30am ensuring I had enough time to get ready for the oral presentations set to begin at 8:30am. LPSC oral presentations are restricted to be only 15 mins in length and have 5 talks running simultaneously at any given time. This allows audience members to absorb a high concentration of material in a short time and make their way to another talk in the next room over for a completely different topic. I was happy about this format because I’m the guy nodding off half way through even hour long lecture. I had the opportunity to attend talks ranging from the composition of Titan’s atmosphere to water ice trapping on Ceres to atmospheric processes on Mars to the formation process of the Moon to Earth’s outgassing during late accretion. I went into Monday without a plan for what I wanted to see and thus got bits and pieces from many specialties but missed a talk very relevant to my research on water migration on the Moon.
PVL was also able to watch Jake talk about his work on Martian clouds. I came into the talk with a different perspective from other attendees as I saw Jake put his project together. Just watching the latter half of creating a professional project is supremely useful for me in my early career.
                  Just after lunch we could attend a plenary session which focused on planetary topography from laser altimetry and presented awards to various people in our field. The meeting allowed me to get a real sense of the scale of the planetary science community as we all sat together in a double wide ball room. The lecturer touched upon how these observation devices could be applied to a range of planetary bodies, making sure that all members could see the applicability of his past and present research. This lecture was of particular interest to me as these instruments provide me with the topographical data I need for my research.
                  The NASA briefing, what I believe was the highlight for most people, took place in the evening. It consisted of a couple NASA officials talking about the future of the planetary sciences for the year to come. Among topics discussed, they mentioned NASA’s new budget, future missions that had been approved for funding including some that were waiting at the ready for such a purpose if money were to appear. During the briefing, I could not help feel a sort of gratification in the fact that the research we are all doing does matter enough for government agencies to organize a briefing for us. In a way it justified my continued work in this field. 

Day 2
I learned my lesson from Day 1. I can see the importance of scheduling which oral presentations are priorities to see and then filling in the gaps with whatever sounds interesting. On Tuesday, I made sure to attend the morning lectures focused on lunar ice trapping. One talk even referenced my supervisors paper and brought forward a new angle to approach modelling water trapping on the Moon. I was able to see presentations by those I had referenced in my own papers and by professors I had known from my undergraduate years. Day 2 really showed me that LPSC attracts the entire planetary science community for the benefit of us all.
The evening brought with it the first poster session. Four members of the PVL group were presenting alongside 700 others. I appreciated the organization as people of similar research topics were all in the vicinity of each other. I was drawn to the posters focusing on Pluto, Charon and Ceres, the smaller bodies of our solar system. Though my present research does not focus on these, I hope my future work will. Personally, I found it challenging absorbing information from posters compared to the orals. I found myself looking superficially at many posters; being attracted to the bright and bold and skimming information from those with intriguing titles.
Days 3-5
Days 3 to 5 were similar to my experience with Day 2. I mainly attended talks related to the Moon or polar ice deposits while making time for the few special ones in between. At first, I was disappointed that there were no talks focusing on my research and my interests but quickly I realized that these topics which overlapped mine in the Venn diagram of planetary research gave a more complete picture of what the community is doing and how I could look at my work. It was a reminder that instead of becoming a focused specialist one can understand and use the information from pioneers in their field to connect ideas in a broader respect.
                  The second poster session was held on the evening of Day 4. Unfortunately, my poster was located in one of the quiet corners of the conference room which did not help my visibility. Though my poster did not get much traffic, the practice of presenting my research to those who did pass by was hugely beneficial. Hearing myself explain my work to someone without prior knowledge of my work let me tweak my spiel to incorporate exactly the message I want to put forward. I ensured that I touched upon all the broad topics of my work while still giving enough scientific background, yet leaving out the nitty gritty not to bog down or focus too much on one aspect of the research.
                  In summary, LPSC provided those who attended with a massive bank of new, relevant research being conducted by pioneers at the forefront of the planetary science field. With a little bit of planning and organization one can come away with much more than a couple of jotted down notes. From new methods of approaching ones own projects to social experience by communicating with attendees; being in the flock of birds of your own feather helps find ones place in the science community.

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