Last week, the City of Vancouver had the honour of welcoming the attendees of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineer) IMECE (International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition) at the Vancouver Convention Centre (see pictures below). From what I hear, it was the first time IMECE, one of the largest mech eng conferences in the world, was held outside of the United States, and I definitely don’t think anyone can blame anyone for their excellent choice of venue (I always wanted to see the rotating Earth in the Convention Centre up close). Now, the reason why I am writing about the conference today is because I got to attend the conference for free as a student volunteer. That’s right, $0 registration fee.
Now, I love going to conferences. I think it’s more fun than just visiting another city/country/continent for a trip. I’ve been to a handful of conferences since my undergrad – leadership conferences, student tech conferences, etc., – and I even chose to go to Japan for my grad trip a bit more than a year ago, because ICRA (International Conference on Robotics and Automation) 2009 was held in Kobe, Japan at the time.
I think being financially supported to attend conferences is definitely one of the sunny sides of being in grad school. You get to fly out, train out, or bus out to somewhere (possibly new) to meet people from all over the place who shares the same interest as you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never met these people before, or you’re nervous to death that the researcher (one of the persons you’ve only seen the online profile picture of) just came and sat in the room you’ll be giving your presentation in.
Just like teenagers who, by chance, run into his/her favourite movie star, grad students experience theses starstruck moments when they meet certain big figures in their research field. I certainly did when I went to ICRA 2009, and talked with the big figures in the field of roboethics, and went to ICRA 2010 and gave my workshop presentation in front of a researcher I had been admiring for over a year. During the first semester (and perhaps the first year) of my master’s I flipped through a lot of pdf’s (academic papers, of course) related to my research. It was inevitable – as is the case with any student researchers in any field of study – that I came across certain researchers’ names more often than others’. And for some reason, I started to consider them as Einstein or Newton – both of whom have passed away long ago, but left us with invaluable knowledge we now can’t live without, especially as engineers – and couldn’t imagine that these people could exist in the same room as you and talk to you in person, one on one …. for minutes… and even ask you questions that only you know the answer to…!! The thrill, I tell ya…
Anywho, long story short, I have fond memories of running into the big figures and being starstruck. With this and many other factors in mind, I love going to conferences.
In preparation for the IMECE conference, UBC students were offered to volunteer at the conference and, in exchange for the volunteering work, allowed to attend the conference for the day for free. Myself and a handful of Mech grads volunteered for the conference. I volunteered on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, checking on and helping out presenters with their posters etc,. I got to meet a lot of people from all over the world from my volunteering duties. Most of them were researchers within micro and nano area, which are quite different from my field – robotics, human-robot interaction, and roboethics. But it was great to have met them, and with the power of social media, will try my best to keep in touch with them. Who knows? I might end up presenting something in Atlanta, or LA, and may run into the people from Georgia Tech, UCLA, USC etc. again?
Another awesome thing about volunteering at the conference (in addition to free food, which I didn’t mention so far) was that Dr. Sheldon Green, the Head of our Department, was there as a ‘student’ volunteer on Thursday as well. I think ASME needed a lot of volunteers for this conference, and Dr. Green came out to volunteer with the students and promote UBC student volunteerism at the conference. He was actually given a name tag that said ‘STUDENT’ in all caps under his name. He didn’t seem offended by the misprint at all, and joined us early in the morning to get volunteering instructions for the day. I think the students who woke up around 6am to get to the Vancouver Convention Centre by 7am, and Jennifer Pelletier (a.k.a, Jen), who was there before us and left the Centre after us everyday of the conference, were all enspirited by Dr. Green’s volunteerism (and also by his self-control over nanaimo bars at lunch – the self-control I definitely did not have).
Definitely looking forward to the next conference in my calendar… 🙂