9 December 2016

Get Ready for the AAS Winter Meeting: Strategies for Success

The 229th AAS meeting is almost upon us and I couldn’t be more excited. From the plethora of plenary sessions, to the gaggle of scientific talks and posters, to the numerous networking opportunities, the AAS winter meeting is a must for astronomers, astrophysicists, and planetary scientists in all phases of their careers.

I want to help you get the most out of the meeting and also highlight some of the special events that the AAS is organizing, especially designed to support your career success. One of the most important resources you will have at your disposal at the meeting is the Career Center. Located at the AAS Booth (#317) in the center of the Exhibit Hall, the Career Center is your go-to for career-related information. Find out about the many career-related events, learn which employers are recruiting at the meeting, upload your CV to the AAS CV Collection, get job searching advice, and sign up for one-on-one career consultations with yours truly (see below). Don’t forget to introduce yourself to the AAS staff – let them know your needs so they can assist you! The AAS exists to promote the profession and professionals of astronomy – so your triumph is its triumph and vice versa.

For more information, visit the Career Services page. I suggest you start making your plan now for what activities you will attend and pursue. To help you get started, here are a few highlights from the meeting to put on to your agenda:

  • Career-related workshops: There are opportunities every day during the meeting to gain skills in career planning, job searching, and networking, hear from experts on how to launch and advance your career, and develop insight into the many professional avenues that exist for astronomers.
  • One-on-one career consulting: Conference participants can sign up in advance or onsite at the Career Center to have a 20 minute one-on-one career consultation with me. Bring your CV, résumé, and any other document you’d like me to review. We can also discuss any career or workplace-related topic of interest to you, and our conversation remains completely confidential.
  • Professional development workshops: Throughout the meeting, the AAS is offering a number of hands-on, professional development workshops designed to arm you with crucial skills, from software skills to becoming a better educator.
  • Career Networking & Job Fair: You don’t have to be a wiz at networking to attend this event. Employers and job seekers are invited to mix and mingle during this informal reception on Wednesday, 4 January, at 6:30 pm in the room Grapevine C. I’ll be attending, so I hope to see you there!
  • Networking for Nerds Night: I will be hosting a free Networking for Nerds Night at 6:00 pm on Thursday, 5 January. This event will be a chance for fellow nerds to get together in a fun, no-pressure atmosphere. We will also go out to dinner (no host), and I will do a drawing for a free copy of my book, Networking for Nerds. Location will be announced in my workshops and on Twitter (I’m @AlainaGLevine and I’ll use the meeting hashtag, #aas229). Information about this will be available at the Career Center. No sign up required!

Consider these tips as you plan for the meeting:

  • Make a strategy now. Don’t just attend the conference passively. It is not too early to start reaching out to professionals with whom you’d like to meet while you’re both in Grapevine. Don’t be shy about requesting an informal conversation. Show initiative and email Dr. X now.
  • Look for win-win networking. Dr. X’s and you are attending the meeting for similar reasons – you both want to learn about new discoveries, innovations, and ideas, and you both want to meet people with whom you can potentially collaborate. Everyone always has a problem they are trying to solve and if you reach out at the right time, you can position yourself as a problem solver – and more specifically Dr. X’s problem solver.
  • But only ask for only 15 minutes of their time. Everyone’s time is maxed out at a major conference like the AAS winter meeting, so Dr. X might not have a full hour to spend with you. But, she can almost always spare 15 minutes.
  • Plan to go to the Town Halls. What is a Town Hall? It’s a chance for the leaders of large projects or major funding agencies, such as James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, or the National Science Foundation, to share updates on their work with stakeholders, collaborators, and interested parties (meaning: you!). They often provide an overview of the project, schedule, timeline and milestones, and successes and challenges – vital information if you want to work in this field, in that agency, or with that team. It’s also another great networking opportunity.
  • Promote your poster and talk! Last year, I met a student who brilliantly printed her poster on fabric, which she wore as a scarf throughout the meeting – a great conversation starter and way to appropriately promote herself. If you don’t have the budget or that’s not your style, at the very least invite other astronomers to attend your talk or visit you at your poster. Take it one step further: have business cards and put a sticker on the back with the title, date, time, and location of your poster or presentation. Then, as you meet leaders and potential employers, you can give them your card and invite them to attend your presentation in the process.

Take advantage of as many of these career and professional development opportunities as you can. Go to talks in and outside of your subfield. Network and craft mutually-beneficial partnerships with other scientists. Remember that a background in astronomy is the perfect foundation for careers throughout the galaxy – it’s up to you to decide what you want to do, and the 229th AAS meeting will help you do just that. Here’s to your success, and I look forward to seeing you in the new year!

Alaina G. Levine is a STEM career consultant, professional speaker, corporate comedian, and science writer. She is author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015, forward by Nobel laureate astrophysicist Brian Schmidt), which was named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today magazine. @AlainaGLevine