Thursday, January 21, 2010

215th AAS: Meg Urry

The AAS Meeting was so big, I've asked a few people to help me summarize their thoughts and impressions of the meeting. I'll be posting them over the next days and weeks. Just to prove that I'm not the only one who felt overwhelmed by the size and scope of the biggest AAS Meeting ever, here are some thoughts on the meeting from Meg Urry, former chair of the CSWA, and organizer of the first two conferences on Women in Astronomy:

Major impression: the meeting was so huge, and so busy, that it was almost impossible to do even a fraction of the things I wanted to do. The AAS January meeting has changed enormously since I started going to them 20-some years ago. Now meetings are many times bigger – typical attendance at my first meetings was a few hundred, and 600 people was a big meeting. I remember when we broke 1000, that was big news. Now we are over 3000. It was nice that there was one hotel, with lots of places to sit and talk – that really encouraged people to get together. Even so, I missed seeing more people than I actually saw.

Second big impression (almost goes without saying now): tons of young people, reporting on REU projects, and tons of women. Hard to believe that seeing other women at a AAS meeting used to be unusual. It really makes you feel as if the final barriers have been broken.

Third big impression: great talks, extremely exciting stuff happening – and not enough time to hear about all of it. Looking forward to reading more in the journals.

I agree with all of the above. I recall my first AAS Meeting in 2003, showing up with husband and baby in tow. The grad student with the poster next to mine remarked to me that she would love to see more pregnant women and people with babies at astronomy conferences. I think her wish has come true, by and large. I also found myself torn between multiple parallel sessions pretty much the entire time. As the field of astronomy has grown, so has its diversity.