Thursday, November 11, 2010

Living life as a entropy-driven reaction.

My life is on the brink of defying the rules of thermodynamics. Somehow things keep getting more and more chaotic and exciting, but I don't see any signs of it slowing down. Eventually, everything should finally dissociate into complete disorder, but I'm apparently operating on cold-fusion now. It's both terrifying and amazing. The things people are capable of really astound me sometimes, even when I'm the one doing them.

What I'm trying get at is that I'm now applying to present at two new research conferences. One is this next Wednesday and is being held by SURSCA on my campus. I'm excited about it, having attended a few in the past, I now get to present my own work. The one thing that is unfortunate about it is that it's limited to the students on my campus. Granted, it will still be my first time presenting first undergraduate-oriented research convention, so I'm not complaining. I'll just make a million dollars one day and donate it to my school so it can become gigantic and awesome and such.
Until I win the lottery, I'm looking forward to the second conference a little more as it is much larger.And by large, I mean on the national scale. Assuming I'm acccepted, it looks like I am one of the lucky thousands of undergraduate researcher who gets to attend the annual National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) meeting. It's being held at Ithaca University in New York this year. Normally this would be a bit of a hurdle, considering the currently taxed state of my finances. Being a college student and going  on a research trip to somewhere like Taiwan have a habit of shrinking whatever funds are available to me, apparently. This may be where the laws of thermodynamics plan to bring my life back into equilibrium, but the joke's on them. It I get accepted to NCUR, it's highly likely that I can get a scholarship covering travel costs and registration fees. Then I'll only have to pay for food, and while I admit that I enjoy eating a great deal, that won't nearly be expensive enough to prevent me from coming.

I have presented at a conference before, but it was very different from a normal conference. This past June, I presented my work from the summer at the annual WiSys Technology Foundation conference, which for the most part was great. They provided travel funds for almost every student who attended, however I'm not entirely sure why. By and large, the conference was geared towards connecting PhD's with entrepreneurs and really didn't address the undergraduate researchers in attendance. That is not to say that I didn't gain anything from going, on the contrary, I learned a great deal of things about intellectual property, biotech entrepreneurship, and more. While I didn't expect any of it, the most surprising and important thing that I learned was the value many people place in appearances and networking.

Beforehand, I had the opinion that a lot of the "professionalism" at conferences and in non-academic circles is mostly useless fluff. It took watching my more extroverted peers to show me the benefits of dressing up, small talk, and generally being able to talk about something besides the inflammation pathway in zebrafish. I'm still much more interested in what a researcher has to present, but I'm also keenly aware of the difficulty they'll have in convincing politicians, business people, and the general public that they have something worth saying. Unfortunately, most people like the smoke and mirrors of a presentation as much (if not more) than the actual content. Live, learn, and let lie, I guess.

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