About the Blog Author: Noelle Mason is an undergraduate at Colorado State University studying biology and conservation. She works with Dr. Kristen Ruegg’s lab researching relative telomere length in migratory yellow warblers. Noelle can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
The American Genetics Association President’s Symposium this year focused on Conservation Genomics: Current Applications and Future Directions. This very topic sparked my interest in high school and is widely responsible for my declaration of a biology major and conservation minor as an undergraduate. Naturally, when the email circulated throughout my lab’s listserv announcing that abstract submissions were open, I had to submit mine. I was so very excited; I would be going to my first (in-person) symposium ever.
Months later, my graduate and post-doc lab mates piled into a six-person van and made the drive from Colorado State University to Snowbird, Utah, stopping at riveting destinations along the way, like Rawlins, Wyoming (sarcasm intended). The first morning of the symposium was, admittedly, a bit surreal. I squinted to read nametags of people who I had only ever seen as authors on papers and tried to match names to faces and topics I had read about in the past.
Dr. Lisette Waits gave an exciting lecture to kick off the conference, sharing with us her research on dynamic endangered species like the red wolf, and providing a call to action for the use of genomics in conservation action. The day shuffled on in that room in Snowbird as we all listened intently to lectures on climate change, adaptation and genomics, and guzzled coffee at an unreasonable pace.
After the lunch, which warranted a whole-hearted chef’s kiss, was the section I was most excited for: Genetic Monitoring and Genomic Rescue. My two favorite lectures were those delivered by Drs. Brenna Forester and Sarah Fitzpatrick, who had both formerly worked with Dr. Chris Funk at my home university, CSU. All the lectures in this series covered a wide variety of taxa, exposing me to many of the possible applications genomic tools have to further endangered species protection. The impacts of these lectures on me will be long-lasting.
Then came my first-ever poster session. If only the symposium could have been held after my 21st birthday, then I could have had a drink instead of consuming ungodly quantities of water out of nervousness prior to presenting my poster. This of course, was unwarranted and unnecessary anxiety, because every person I talked to was immensely excited about their own work and excited to listen to me talk about my poster.
This was undoubtedly my favorite part of the symposium because I felt like I got to see a wider variety of applications, techniques, and species than were covered in the featured talks. If I were to attend a symposium like this again, I think it would be nice to have a poster session each day. There were so many posters I wanted to see and researchers I wanted to meet but didn’t get a chance to.
As an undergraduate, I am extraordinarily grateful for the conversations I had with those who came to visit my poster. Never have I met a group of people more excited for me and supportive of my ideas and goals than at this conference. The conversations I had the night of the poster session were by far the best ones I had during the entirety of the conference.
The second day of the conference was a snowy one. Snowbird was a spectacular location to hold the conference, but I do believe that it is ultimately unfair to hold a symposium at a ski resort in the snow… right before ski season. That second day, it was hard for me to keep my eyes off the falling snow covering the gold aspens and not envision myself hitting the slopes. It is for this reason that I bought my yearly ski pass during the lunch break.
This is not to say that the featured talks on day two were not equally enticing… though I am rethinking that word choice, as one of the sessions was focused on the genomics of disease. The second session was very exciting for my lab mates and I, as our own principal investigator was talking. We were very proud to watch Dr. Kristen Ruegg speak on her work with the Bird Genoscape Project, which we had all contributed to over the last few years.
I thank everyone who attended the conference for providing me with such an educational experience. I hope that some of the connections I made will be long-lived. I learned so much about what I want my future to look like and what kinds of role models I need to follow. I will never forget some of the people who came to my poster and showed me that they believed in me, just as much as I will never forget Snowbird’s delectable caramel chocolate cake.