Finding Inspiration and Making Connections at AFS 148

As a third-year PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I’ve been to a variety of meetings, from large to small and specific to very broad. However, I can definitively say that the 148th AFS National Meeting in Atlantic City was the most fun I’ve ever had at a conference! I was able to attend this meeting through the generosity of the California-Nevada Chapter, who awarded me a Semi-Annual Travel Award. Below, I highlight some of the reasons why I enjoyed this meeting so much.

Fish people are friendly: One of the best things about this meeting was the approachability of everyone I met, from other students to well-respected scientists to the higher-ups in AFS. Like many people, I find networking difficult, and I was especially nervous going in knowing only a few people. However, I found immediately that both students and professionals genuinely seemed interested in talking, and I made many first-time connections with people who will likely be my colleagues and supervisors in the future. I was also able to reconnect with acquaintances from my alma mater (the University of Miami) and an internship program I was part of. My experiences reaffirmed that fisheries (and biology in general) is a very small community, in surprising ways – for example, one woman I met had worked with some of my former waterbird colleagues in Maryland, and another new friend had worked with some of the marine mammal folks in my department at UCSC. I hugely enjoyed the many socials and networking event s that occurred, whose settings ranged from a decadent 1920s-themed ballroom to a bar on the beach.

Subunits around the country share similar problems and goals: I was honored to present on behalf of the Santa Cruz-Monterey Bay Area Subunit (SCMBAS) at the meeting. Several months ago, Lisa Izzo and Dan Weaver (now president and past-president of the Student Subsection of AFS, respectively) invited us to give a talk in a special symposium on student subunits. In my presentation, I provided advice for other groups, using SCMBAS’s various programs as case studies. I suggested that other young subunits collaborate with existing organizations, capitalize on members’ diverse interests and AFS resources, diversify the types of programs offered, and bring events into public spaces. Listening to talks from other subunits, I noticed that we all struggle with improving membership and keeping programs running long-term. We also have common goals of ecological restoration and public education. I picked up several new ideas for SCMBAS through these talks. I also found that other subunits do not receive the same level of support from their Chapter/Division as we do in SCMBAS – for that, I must again extend my thanks to the California-Nevada Chapter and the Western Division for their continued support of students.

SCMBAS receives the Outstanding Subunit Award: As the president of SCMBAS, I was honored to receive the award for the National Outstanding Subunit award at the business meeting. The incoming AFS president, Jesse Trushenski, listed off a few of our impressive accomplishments, and many people congratulated us throughout the meeting. As the award representative, I was invited to a delicious awards luncheon, where I met other distinguished awards recipients, including many impressive student awardees. I was honored to be able to attend these events and came away motivated to keep the momentum going.

Science was everywhere: From conversations in the hallways, to fantastic presentations on a huge number of subjects, to a variety of workshops, good science was a priority at this meeting. Especially exciting for me were two sessions on catadromous eels (Anguilla spp.), a group of fish I’m particularly interested in working with in the future. UCSC post-doctoral fellow Kerry Reid gave two talks, one focused on the population genetics of river herring (Alosa spp.), and the other examining the genetics of anadromous versus landlocked alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus). I also heard presentations from two UC Davis researchers (Dr. Mandi Finger and Ann Holmes) who were working on delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus). I sketch noted many of the talks I saw – including a compilation of eels!

Final thoughts: Throughout the various events I attended and the AFS leaders that I talked to, it was clear that an important goal of AFS is persuading fisheries scientists, especially students, to become AFS members. After this meeting, I can fully attest to the many benefits that membership provides, such as access to a huge network of new friends and colleagues, various grant opportunities, leadership positions, and jobs. In fact, I came away from this meeting inspired to run for a new position within AFS – the Western Division Representative on the Student Subsection executive committee. If elected, I hope to support Western Division subunits in contributing meaningfully to the National Meeting in Reno, NV next year.

Kat Dale