Judging a poster presentation? Try it next time, it may be good for you

My son ‘wearing his first SACNAS T-shirt.
* This was my first blog post, one year ago. The writer on my wants to rewrite it completely, as I believe it does not give justice to the experience of volunteer judging, a really amazing and energizing experience. If you go to SACNAS this year give it a try. It is really going to help some young and passionate scientists and engineers.*

Have you ever tried to help as an organizer or judge in one of the conferences you attended? Why not? You may be missing out!

There are practical reasons to volunteer as a judge or organizer in a conference. The organizers will remember you. They will know and remember your area or areas of expertise. They may invite you as a speaker next year just because your name comes first to their mind.

Additionally, you will have a better understanding of how things work behind the curtains. You may gain a better understanding of what makes a good poster or a good presentation. In some conferences with restricted number of assistants to be an organizer may be your only chance to secure a spot at the conference.

But I am not here to tell you about those reasons. I am going to tell you about my personal reason:

Last weekend I was at the Seattle Convention Center, volunteering to judge poster presentations at SACNAS 2012, “one of the largest annual gatherings of minority scientists in the country”, according to their website. The SACNAS National Conference is interdisciplinary, inclusive, and interactive; the organizers put a big emphasis in mentoring and they ask the judges to give a written feedback to each one of the poster presenters.

Listening to, and talking with the undergraduate students was an immense joy. They are very smart people making a conscious effort to tell you what they did last summer inside a laboratory, or what they did at school during the last year. Most often they do a great job with their poster presentations and I make some small recommendations about style or presentation. I try to always give positive feedback and give a little bit of career advice (little do they know about my own ‘pinball trajectory’ career).

Sometimes there is a personal connection and I see a spark in their eyes when we talk about a shared passion. Moments like that make feel I may have a positive impact on this young scientist or engineer. They certainly make a positive impact on me: they motivate and inspire me.

I see in those amazing young men and women the perfect example, the small little tale to tell my son if –twenty years from now– he decides to pursue a STEM career: They will be great scientist and engineers, and they will have last names that sound like his last name. These future scientists are going places; I can already tell you that!