Why be a Session Aide?

The following posts are from recent student session aides. Read about their experience networking, attending sessions, and volunteering at the Annual Meeting.

Goda Muralidhar

The AAAS Annual Meeting serves as an excellent forum not only to bring together thought-leaders in different disciplines of science, but it also attracts scientists with an appreciation for allied fields of science policy, advocacy and outreach. As a graduate student exploring non-traditional career options, I felt the 2016 Meeting on Global Science Engagement was perfect for me. I also had the great pleasure of registering as a session aide during the meeting. It covered the registration costs and was a very fun experience!

Being an aide gave me a great platform to talk to the speakers and moderators at the sessions. I doubt I would have been able to approach them with my questions otherwise. Students contemplating careers in science policy often find the barrier for entry into the field rather high and it gets higher still for international students. Learning from those who made the transition is invaluable and the AAAS meeting made it possible. Not only did the speakers freely share their insights, on a lighter note, some of them even took selfies with the aides!

It was also great spending time with the other students who signed up as aides and learning more about their backgrounds and motivations. The meeting attracts such a diverse pool of attendees that one can learn something new from every conversation. Having loved the opportunity to interact with distinguished scientists, policy-makers and professionals, I can heartily recommend the Session Aide program to other students.

Goda Muralidhar is a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Her research focuses on elucidating mechanisms of inter-cellular communication in the epithelial ovarian cancer micro-environment. Follow her on Twitter at @goda_gm.

Esha Mathew

As a graduate student near the end of my training, I’ve started to think about what comes next. While I’m looking into post-doctoral positions, I’m also interested in exploring science policy as well. The AAAS Annual Meeting, with a mix of both, was recommended as an opportunity to meet scientists active in research as well as those who transitioned into a career away from the bench. So, I decided to volunteer as a session aide at the conference, and convinced my brother, also a graduate student, to volunteer with me. Fortunately, my graduate program offers Maas Professional Development Awards to support my attendance at the meeting and AAAS covers registration for volunteers.

There is something special about a scientific conference—the way ideas flow, the heightened excitement, the opportunity to meet experts and arrange collaborations. The AAAS Annual Meeting exemplifies all of this and more. Everyone I spoke to, from scientists to policymakers, was friendly and eager to share their insights. The meeting was organized in a way to promote these qualities, from a designated twitter handle for livetweeting to networking activities after the conference. The sessions themselves were incredibly diverse, and made sure to incorporate multiple perspectives on the same issue. As a session aide, I was given the opportunity to network with the speakers, several of whom were scientists in careers outside the bench. Hearing their advice on making the transition and their career path was absolutely invaluable to me as I start to think about life after grad school. Likewise, I had the opportunity to attend networking events with AAAS science policy fellows, who were incredibly helpful and offered plenty of advice on the journey from the bench to policy.

The scientific process is cyclical—thinking about experiments, analyzing data, performing more experiments. While it’s a process I love, it’s also easy to get lost in it. But science and technology are also about communication and outreach. It’s entrenched in our daily lives more than ever before. The AAAS Annual Meeting incorporates all these aspects of science, and is amazing in the scope of its endeavor and the breadth of topics it covers. Attending as a session aide was a wonderful experience and a must for any student considering alternative careers.

Esha Mathew is a PhD student in the Cellular and Molecular Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research focuses on the way tumor cells talk to normal cells around them, and how this conversation affects tumor growth in pancreatic cancer. Follow her on Twitter at @eshamathew.

Divij Mathew

When my sister recommended volunteering as a session aide, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn some cutting edge science and gain insight on life after graduate school. As a student, I have frequently read publications from AAAS and thought this conference would also be a great opportunity to meet both active researchers and science policy officials.

The AAAS Annual Meeting is huge, and the organizers did a fantastic job picking current session topics and presenting them in a way that incorporated multiple experts approaching an issue from different angles. For example, I learned about antimicrobial resistance from clinicians and public health officials concerned with behavioral changes to prevent antibiotic misuse and disease spread. Furthermore, researchers discussed studies from their own labs on discovering new forms of antibiotics, showing very compelling data. As a session aide, I had the opportunity to chat with presenters and established some great new contacts, not to mention a subscription to Science. In thinking of life after graduate school, I met many AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows, who opened my eyes to other avenues scientists can pursue besides bench research.

Science is collaborative effort, and needs communication just as much as it needs experiments. Coming away from the meeting, I have gained a broader perspective of this idea and have seen how much impact science has in spheres outside the lab, from social networks to politics. For now, my thesis work consumes most of my time and energy, but my broadened perspective is definitely a huge asset for my graduate career. I highly recommend being a student session aide to all graduate students.

Divij Mathew is a PhD student in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. His research focuses on the way T cells, a part of the immune system, are tricked into inactivity by tumors instead of fighting them. Follow him on Twitter at @divijmathew.