Reflections on a Cal-Neva AFS Chapter Travel Award, by Jordan Wingenroth

I am very honored to be writing this personal reflection on the experience of attending the 2017 AFS Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida. What’s more, I was so fortunate as to be awarded the Cal-Neva Travel Award, which was what allowed me to attend the conference. I can’t express enough thanks to the California-Nevada Chapter of AFS for granting me this opportunity and I look forward to seeing many familiar faces at the meeting next spring!

The annual meeting in Tampa was a whirlwind of speakers and presentations, fun “extra-curricular” activities such as the annual 5K Spawning Run, and plenty of friendly networking and chit-chat with innovative leaders and fisheries experts from across the nation and beyond. What’s not to like? I fondly remember setting up my poster on the first day, then taking the chance to explore the diverse and fascinating research projects which surrounded me, portrayed in my neighbor’s posters. I stumbled upon one project focused on LIDAR bathymetry. I had been interested in this topic for some time but had been convinced that the buy-in was too high for the scale on which I was working. Lo and behold, the work I saw before me focused specifically on using lower-cost methods in smaller water bodies. How serendipitous, I thought! Then I strolled over to the trade show, where the technology nerd inside of me was drawn immediately to the big, flashy video monitors at a certain booth with “image processing” in the name. Who would have known that the software being demonstrated would include open-source code for detecting animals that I could integrate with the central project of my masters thesis, which entails analysis of over 50,000 videos from game cameras? And therein lies the most amazing and rewarding part of attending the conference. The perfect storm, you might say. Intelligent experts, interacting in a convivial atmosphere, with remarkably diverse yet related backgrounds and research passions. This combination inevitably leads to discoveries that are impossible to make alone.

When my alarm went off at 5:30 AM on the second day of symposia, I sprung out of bed. For a non-morning person––i.e., coffee addict––such as myself, that was a surprising event. I took the starting line alongside fellow fish-lovers and runners. The “Spawning Run” 5K ran along Tampa’s waterfront, which was more beautiful than I had expected, even in the dusky predawn. The race must have energized me somehow, because the second day of presentations stuck in my memory especially well. I spent the morning in the symposium titled, “Empirical Dynamic Modeling for Fisheries Prediction and Management”. As an aspiring statistician, the applications of Bayesian analysis and nonparametric methods to reach meaningful and relatable conclusions on fisheries problems that had baffled researchers for decades were a unique topic of interest for me. The series of short lectures did not disappoint. I made connections with like minds from across the country with a shared ambition to systematize data formatting and create relevant modeling ‘packages’ for studies of inland fish carried out on all scales––a challenging task requiring far-reaching collaboration but promising unprecedented ecological insights. It’s amazing what running moderate distances and sweating like crazy before the sun rises can do to bring people together!

I am proud of how my poster presentation went and I received a great deal of helpful questions and suggestions about my own research project. But that’s not why I’ll be going back next year. I’ll be going back because of all of the new friendships I planted seeds for in three days so wonderful they seemed to last forever, but which flashed by as fast as lightning nonetheless.

Get more information about Cal-Neva AFS Travel Awards here.