By Ashley Lang, Student Professional Development Support Fund Recipient
This August, I had the opportunity to give my first research talk at a conference in my field at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Louisville, KY. As a PhD candidate entering my last year at Dartmouth, I saw this meeting as a chance not only to practice effectively presenting my research, but to make contact with potential post-doctoral advisors. The meeting was large, with about 2,000 presentations spread out over five days. Despite the breadth of these topics, I was able to find sessions filled with talks related to my research on soil microbial ecology and biogeochemistry, and learned some exciting new things about the functional ecology of my study system. Some of the most interesting presentations focused on understanding how microbial diversity and function affect important carbon cycling processes, a topic that has been the center of many research programs in recent years. I presented a project on this topic—relating the community of mycorrhizal fungi in forest soils with leaf litter decomposition—at a morning session on the fourth day of the conference which was focused on “linking community structure and ecosystem function.”
I also met with a potential post-doctoral advisor to discuss a grant proposal we are preparing for a NSF post-doctoral fellowship. It was great to touch base in person and iron out specifics of a project that we are actively designing to move my studies forward into the next wave of critical topics in soil carbon research. I also had the opportunity to attend a session on the last morning of the conference that has stimulated a new interest in using publically available ecological data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The session described various projects other researchers are doing with NEON data, and I subsequently have decided to use these data for my post-doctoral fellowship proposal as well. They provide an excellent jumping-off point for some really interesting questions in soil and microbial ecology that are made much more tractable by the spatially broad NEON data set.
Overall, my experiences at ESA this year were rewarding and fulfilling. I feel much more confident in presenting my research, and I learned so many new things that have influenced my thinking about my current work and ideas for future research I’d love to do. I am extremely grateful to the Graduate Student Council for funding this trip through the GSC travel grant.