My First Professional Conference

Mindy on the Tampa conference center steps overlooking the water
Mindy on the Tampa conference center steps overlooking the water

I have always had a love for the environment and the water, so naturally, when choosing my major I picked one that incorporated all of my interests – Natural Resources. Coming into this field I really did not have a specific path I wanted take and was open to guidance. I joined clubs and started research to try and see which environmental aspects caught my interest. However, it wasn’t until my research lab sent out an email about the American Fisheries Society annual meeting that I found the perfect opportunity to explore my field. Whether it was attending multiple symposiums or networking with some of the most influential and intelligent fisheries managers, policy makers, and biologists the possibilities were endless.

The schedule of events for the annual meeting, along with the August 2017 fisheries magazine
The schedule of events for the annual meeting, along with the August 2017 fisheries magazine

Professional meetings are a perfect time to gain skills and knowledge that you would not be able to experience back at home. I spent most of my time attending some of the 74 symposiums, all of which had different foci. Some of these topics included fish health management, biochemical tropic markers, lionfish, large oil spills, and more! Since my university research and experience span from freshwater fish to saltwater fish and everything in between I made sure to go to a diverse array of seminars. I was very overwhelmed at first because there was so much to chose from, however, seminar after seminar I realized which field I was more interested in than others. My personal favorite being Swirling, Jumping, Burping and Farting: Pre-Spawning Aggregation Behaviors of Bonefish (Albula vulpes) by Andy J. Danylchuk. The intriguing title led many to his meeting room and his pre-spawning aggregation findings were incredible. I also attended a very valuable talk on the future of the nation’s fisheries and aquatic resources. During this seminar I received a pamphlet that had the top 12 fisheries issues that the American Fisheries Society deemed important to act on soon. Of course, they are not tackling all 12 at once, but rather in sections. This seminar was helpful in the fact that it guided me into the up and coming issues in my field.

Mindy (left), Becca (middle), and Julia (right) are all from the Schultz lab at UConn
Mindy (left), Becca (middle), and Julia (right) are all from the Schultz lab at UConn

Professional meetings are a great place to network and get your name out there. Over 2,000 people attended the AFS national meeting which, although overwhelming, provided great networking opportunities. I had the chance to talk with people from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, different state natural resource departments, and many more. This was perhaps the most rewarding experience for me. Having such a broad interest in the ocean and fisheries, it was really beneficial for me to talk to all these people with different positions that were in various places in life. I gained so much perspective in the fisheries field and pinpointed new personal, educational, and career goals for myself.

Overall, I highly recommend attending a professional conference in your career field at some point before or soon after you graduate. Conferences provide the perfect opportunity to network with professionals in your field, allowing you to learn about a plethora of jobs you didn’t even know existed. Additionally, there are always multiple scholarships or travel assistance awards available to help aide with travel costs. If it wasn’t for my travel assistance award I would have not been able to attend this conference and gain all the knowledge and experiences I have.

Thank you to the Schultz lab and Becca Colby for engaging me in research and encouraging me to attend the national AFS meeting. And thank you to the AFS Education Section and UConn’s CAHNR for providing travel assistance.