by Harneet Sangha
Harneet Sangha is a second year PhD student at the University of Leicester. Harneet researches the structure and variability of field aligned current systems in Earth’s magnetosphere. In this blog post, Harneet talks about attending the 2018 GEM (Geospace Environment Modelling) workshop in Sante Fe.
What is GEM?
The GEM workshop showcases current research in investigating the Earth’s magnetosphere and how it is coupled to the ionosphere, atmosphere and the solar wind. There are a handful of research areas (Solar Wind-Magnetosphere Interactions, the Inner Magnetosphere, Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling, Global System Modelling, and the Magnetotail and Plasmasheet), all of which have a number of their own smaller focus groups during the workshop. These focus groups change every few years, and new focus groups can be proposed by the community. GEM is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is a subsection of the NSF Geosciences Division.
I attended the GEM 2018 workshop, which ran from 17 June - 23 June 2018. I actually ended up going to America a few days early, and stayed in America for an extra week afterwards for a little holiday.
How did I fund the trip?
I received funding from GEM, specifically the NSF, which paid for the accommodation and all internal travel to and from the conference. To receive this funding I applied to GEM directly, and had to send a statement of purpose to explain my research goals, how GEM will help me to pursue these goals, and how I can contribute to GEM (I contributed by presenting my work both orally and with a poster. I also signed up to do a student tutorial and although I didn’t get chosen for the tutorials, I was placed in reserve). GEM required me to write a follow-up report, explaining the benefits of attending, and what I gained from the whole experience. In addition to the GEM grant, I received money from the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), which funded the flights to America, as well as food costs. I also had to provide a follow up report of the experience for RAS too.
The more things (a talk, poster, tutorials etc.) you sign up for, the more likely you are to receive funding from GEM. So apply for anything you can! You may not get everything, but the fact that you have signed up for them means you can be a reserve in case other students are unable to actually do them in the end (e.g. the student day tutorials). Also, if you do get to do everything, the experiences will be great!
A day in Sante Fe
The whole workshop was based in the Eldorado Hotel that the majority of us were staying in, which was really convenient! All the different focus group sessions were in different conference rooms along the same corridor, making it quick and easy to jump between the sessions, and find one that you were interested in.
The beautiful view from the rooftop of the Eldorado Hotel, where the GEM icebreaker event was held.
In the mornings, the sessions started at 08:30 and typically ran until 17:00, interspersed with coffee breaks and a lunch break. The talks were 10 minutes long with a couple of minutes for questions. On Tuesday and Thursday, there were poster sessions, which took place between 17:00 - 21:00.
I went to a lot of sessions throughout the whole week and would always try to pick the ones that were most relevant to me. If there wasn’t one at a specific time I would either go to an interesting, semi-unrelated session, or go exploring the area around the hotel. I made notes on all the talks, and anything that may have helped my understanding for my own work. I also brought back a list of papers that I wanted to read, either out of interest or to further my knowledge. I saw a lot of interesting talks, especially as there was some work that I had no idea about, so it was very fascinating to see. The most useful session that I went to (and also presented in) was the Inner Magnetosphere Cross-Energy/Population Interactions sessions, these talks ranged from modelling the behaviour of energetic particles in the inner magnetosphere, to studying chorus wave activity during storms. I also found sitting in on the panel discussions were very interesting, these would take place in the last session (usually of 3) of the focus groups, and the focus group leaders would discuss (along with the audience) the topics within the research area that need to be explored further. For example, the relationship between the ionosphere-atmosphere system during storm time is currently not well-known, neither are interhemispheric asymmetries in a lot of areas, including field-aligned currents and sub-auroral polarization streams (both related to my work).
The workshop was very sociable! At lunchtimes we would head to local restaurants in groups to eat out. I always tried to go to different places to try all the local cuisine, and it was easily done. There are more than enough different places to eat for the whole week. In the evenings, we would all go out to get some dinner, have some drinks, and socialise. On the Wednesday we had the conference dinner, which was held in the hotel.
My first international conference!
This was my first international conference, as well as my first poster presentation. Before I even got there I had learned what made a good poster, and created one that I thought would have a chance of winning the student poster competition that I would be entering. By actually taking part in the poster competition, the anonymous judges provided me with some really useful suggestions to improve my future poster presentations, so I did learn a lot from the experience. Also, from presenting my work both orally and in a poster, I got a huge amount of good feedback, including a lot of different directions I can go in with my future projects. I brought these ideas back and we now have a long list of possible avenues for my research to go down. Both my poster and my presentation had the same title of “Field-Aligned Current Structure of Sub-Auroral Polarization Streams”, and I had given them both the same theme. This meant that those who had seen my presentation on the Tuesday morning, would be more likely to remember my work that Tuesday evening during the poster session, and could come up to me to discuss my work.
A photo from my oral presentation on the Tuesday morning.
GEM was a great opportunity for me to meet lots of international PhD students and researchers within the same field as me. Due to the layout of the GEM programme, the first full day (Sunday) was filled with student tutorials, where the PhD students would present some basic theory on different topics. This meant that we all had the same basic understanding as each other before the workshop began the next day. On this day, there were only students present, which meant that we got to know who all the students were straight away and got to chat with them before the main programme started. This happens every year and it’s a great way to meet everyone. We had an icebreaker during one of the breaks, which also really helped with introductions.
The conference was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The area around the hotel was really lovely, a lot of mountains in the distances. It was really hot there too! The food was really great, and the shops were filled with beautiful handmade ornaments and jewellery, as well as a lot of pretty stones and gems in a few of the shops. I really enjoyed looking around all the shops! There is also the Georgia O’Keefe Museum nearby to the hotel which a few of us went to look around one day during a break.
One of the shop displays showing the vibrant items for sale.
Would I go to GEM again?
I would highly recommend attending this workshop. I found it had a really nice atmosphere which was friendly and more on the informal side (like MIST). It was a lot larger than MIST conferences that I have attended, but it was nice to get to meet so many new people at once and present my work to a large international audience for the first time.
I would definitely go again! I made a lot of good friends from this trip, who I have still kept in contact with and will hopefully see at other conferences in the future (even if I don’t return to GEM).
By talking to researchers throughout the week and talking about my work, I have new ideas and directions to go with my work. I have also promoted my work and my name. A lot of people who were interested in my work have said they will look out for my future papers, and a few have sent me emails with potentially relevant papers which has been really helpful for my work. And I am also about to email a few more people who I had met there to help me with my work!
Some useful links: