So it's the end of the final day here at the CAASTRO conference, and I think everyone is pretty worn out. The schedule has been nothing but full days of talks for the last 4 days, so it's understandable that fatigue would hit soon. I'm feeling pretty worn out myself, and I haven't even understood much of these talks, let alone ask intriguing questions and set up major collaborations all day!
My distinct lack of experience notwithstanding, I've found the most useful parts of this experience to be the discussions held at the end of each section. We can all think back to discussion classes we had in high school (or even earlier), and how everyone would simply sit in silence for much of the time. Well, I'm glad to say that this experience has been the opposite. In fact, many of the discussions have to be cut off otherwise they'd go on indefinitely.
These sessions don't just cover the content of the talks though, they're far more all-encompassing than that. We've had (or at least, I have observed) group discussions on how exactly to best tie together simulations and observation, and what each group needs from the other. There have also been conversations on how best to combine the data from many disparate surveys and groups across the globe, as well as questions on just how well we actually understand the universe around us.
Academia in general, and astrophysics in particular, are tough fields to crack into; they're even tougher to survive in. But I think there are so few careers that would encourage those kinds of discussions so readily. Where else can you find a group of people more than willing to discuss the nature of reality over a piece of cake and a cup of tea?
I spent most of my time feeling academically lost, and I wasn't able to contribute as much to the science side of things as I would have liked, but I still enjoyed the time nonetheless. I did spend my time scoping out other programs and schools for graduate study though, and knowing people from the programs you want to apply to can only ever be a benefit. I'm certainly looking forward to more conferences in the future, hopefully when I can contribute a little bit more, and maybe with a talk of my own.