As a senior studying Wildlife Conservation and Management within the School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE), I can name many events in college that left a lasting impression and made me reflect on my future. Perhaps one of the greatest of these was a recent conference I attended in Reno, Nevada, from late September to early October. This was the 2019 Joint Annual Conference of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) and The Wildlife Society (TWS). In the past, AFS and TWS have always had separate conferences, making this the first ever joint conference between these two leading organizations in fisheries and wildlife conservation. That same year I was serving as president of the UA Student Chapters of AFS and TWS, affording me the opportunity to travel to Reno as a student leader and participate in something that all my professors and advisors had described as critically important. Yet, what I experienced that week was more than anything I could have imagined.
Workshops, poster sessions, presentations, plenaries, and networking events. These are what I envisioned myself attending upon arriving at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center and downloading the conference app. It ended up being far more intense. Every day was composed of running back and forth between presentations, lest I miss the opportunity to speak with someone I wanted to meet. I intend to pursue graduate studies right after my undergraduate degree; hence it was absolutely vital that I speak in person with professors who could serve as potential advisors. Any breaks were spent reading scientific literature to familiarize myself with their work and make the best possible first impression. Not to mention it was wonderful meeting other undergraduate students! As president of the UA Student Chapters of AFS and TWS, I was invited to a “Student Chapter Leaders’ Luncheon” where I met other student leaders from across the nation. Hearing about research at universities from California to Maine was fascinating too, particularly because I had learned about some of their research in my classes. Lastly, I and another UBRP student had the great fortune of attending a plenary in which one of our SNRE professors gave a talk as the newly elected AFS president.
Although these many events were enjoyable, my favorite parts of the conference always (unexpectedly) occurred at the end of the day. My PI, who is also the director of SNRE, hosted social events in the evenings for UA alumni together with his lab group. I have the fondest memories of spending time together with members from my lab, including graduate students, postdocs, and my supervisors. The first night we met in a bicycle shop owned by a UA friend where my PI discussed current SNRE projects. The second night included a UA alumni reception that was part of a larger networking event. Not only was this a great opportunity to enjoy some Wildcat spirit, but it was also a great chance to meet some more professors at other university receptions. The final evening of the conference was my favorite. After a long day, we met at the Airbnb at which the graduate students were staying and enjoyed a festive meal. Not to mention several folks brought their dog, causing the place to become a bit overcrowded!
I learned many things about myself in that week. I learned I was capable of conducting myself in a professional manner while maintaining my personable nature, and that I truly enjoyed meeting other people within the field. Programs in wildlife and fisheries sciences in general seem to have a strong level of camaraderie, while competition to determine who has the “best” program is low. This is perhaps one of my favorite characteristics of my field of study. I was also incredibly honored to represent the UA during my interactions with the many professionals from across the nation, and can hardly wait to experience it all again in 2020!