The Chemical Society of Washington (CSW) offers a travel award to defray travel and/or registration costs to a National ACS meeting. The award is open to current graduate students in the jurisdiction of CSW. Awardees are asked to share with CSW members something from their experience that impacted their perspective as a chemist.
Stepping off the plane at the San Francisco International Airport, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was not my first conference, or even my fourth, yet somehow, this time was different. This time, there were no chaperones or classmates to protect me. I was going into things alone.
The next morning, I woke up flustered from a shallow sleep that had done little to quell my nervousness. I left the hotel shortly thereafter with hand-scrawled directions to the Moscone Center in my pocket. The cold bay air shocked me, but trekking through the hilly city streets warmed me up. Unfortunately, I quickly became lost, which did not help my nerves. Luckily, I caught sight of a sharply dressed man with a poster tube hanging over his shoulder and took a chance, following him the rest of the way.
It’s difficult for me to fully articulate exactly how I felt as I entered the conference hall. Whatever anxiety I had felt earlier was promptly supplanted with an overwhelming sense of awe. Ten months earlier, I had been in Nashville at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and was taken aback by the 2000 undergraduates and 1000 administrators there. At that moment, in San Francisco, I was surrounded by what seemed to be an infinite number of people. These where not, however, just any people; they were people who represented what I had spent my undergraduate career trying to become. Seeing so many of them gathered in one spot stirred something within me.
Chemistry has always fascinated me, and luckily it is something I am able to do quite well. My frustration with it has always stemmed from the inability of others to understand it. The day before I left for the conference, I had just completed a 10-week internship at the University of Pennsylvania where I did neuroscience research. The previous summer, I did molecular biology at Weill Cornell. In each case, when I spoke to others – my friends and family both in and out of science – I was able to engage with them as to what I did and its significance on some level. As a chemistry major, my efforts to convey my passion for my research and my field is often met with blank stares and the more than occasional Breaking Bad joke.
Attending the ACS meeting allowed me to feel connected to chemistry, and other chemists in a way that I had never felt before. I felt tremendously relieved to be around so many people I felt connected to through our shared love. I was reminded why I had chosen chemistry as a major, and reassured in that choice. Perhaps most unexpectedly, I began to see ACS – and consequently CSW and the Division of Inorganic Chemistry, who helped fund my attendance at the meeting – as more than a faceless corporate entity, but rather as my professional organization. It is one I anticipate becoming more involved in as my scientific career develops.