To the AFS in Atlantic City, via Missouri and California

As a member of the Cal-Neva AFS, I must make a confession: I am not from the west coast. Even though I was born and raised in Missouri, I have spent many years in California and feel as though I have become as naturalized as a striped bass. I grew up feeding buffalo carp in the lakes and watching gar skimming the surface of the water. I was excited to have the opportunity to travel to the east coast to attend the National AFS meeting especially when I saw the program filled with posters and presentations about the fish I grew up with. I was especially excited to see a presentation on paddlefish; I remember thinking they were some kind of alien when fisherman brought them back to shore. It’s amazing to see how researchers are using the dentary bones of these amazing fish as an alternative to otoliths to reconstruct life history.

I am incredibly grateful to the Cal-Neva chapter of AFS for providing me with a travel grant that allowed me to attend this meeting. This helped alleviate the debt I incurred from traveling across country as well as the costs of registration fees. This was not only because I was presenting at the meeting but it was also incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to see the current research being done on species that were able to transport me back to my childhood. I also really enjoyed the extracurricular activities held for students in order to network as well as receive advice from mentors. These activities were very creative in how they ensured students to interact with professional in our field. At each one I had a wonderful time and met some incredible fisheries professionals that all gave great advice.

I am really proud of my presentation during the “Chemical archives beyond otoliths” session. Even though I was very nervous, my talk went off without a hitch. It was also really exciting to speak with the professionals that came to my talk and to discuss afterwards how my research can be applied to their systems or study species. Many were interested in how I am using lenses as an alternative to otoliths in order to see how juvenile salmon are using freshwater habitats.  It was humbling to consider the broader applications of my research on lenses and sulfur isotopes to see how they could go beyond the Central Valley of California.

I was moved by this meeting’s attention to science communication as well as its dedication to improving diversity and inclusion within our organization. Cheyenne Owens, a speaker during the Diversity and Inclusion session, drove home for me that we should be aiming for equity over equality, and actively recognizing that not everyone will have the same advantages or the same starting points as others in this field. She also discussed actions that are currently taking place in order to improve the climate and conditions within our profession to aid in diversity and inclusion. Some of these actions were suggestions like reducing the cost of registration and providing more scholarships, recognizing that money can be a hardship and a detractor for attending important networking events like national meetings. Despite my own privileges, it was still difficult for me on a graduate student’s income to fly across the country in order to attend this meeting. I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be for other students who were unable to receive reduced costs, scholarships, travel grants or even the encouragement to present research at this meeting. I appreciate the work AFS is putting towards this effort while recognizing that there is always more that can be done to improve diversity but we are definitely off to a great start. I look forward to taking the lessons I learned from this session and seeing how I can apply them to the lab I work in.

Overall, this was one of the best meetings that I’ve attended. I am deeply grateful to AFS for the travel grant that made the above experiences possible and am already counting the days for next year’s AFS meeting in Reno.

Miranda (Bell) Tilcock