4 Reasons Why Students and Postdocs Should Check Out This Year’s AAAS Annual Meeting in D.C.

By Sarah Ellinwood
February 1, 2023

When people ask me how I got my start in science communication, I point to the AAAS Annual Meeting as a pivotal moment in my career. I first attended in 2016 when the meeting was held in my stomping grounds in Washington, D.C., and then in 2017 when it was in Boston.

Out of all the scientific conferences I had been to, the AAAS Annual Meeting was undoubtedly my favorite. I met so many fantastic people both online through Twitter and in person, and I learned so much that helped me to grow as a science communicator.

Seven years since I first went, the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting is back in D.C. March 2-5, and I couldn’t be more excited. And if you’re not able to join in person, never fear – there’s also a virtual option as well.

Here are four reasons students (both undergraduate and graduate) and postdocs should attend, especially if they’re in the DMV.

1) It’s more affordable than other conferences

Hearing the word “conference” might make you shudder in fear, recalling past memories of paying thousands for registration and waiting weeks, sometimes months for reimbursement.

That’s not the case with the AAAS Annual Meeting. Compared to other academic conferences, this meeting is much more affordable.

Early bird registration is currently open until February 14, 2023, with student rates as low as $75 for AAAS members ($110 for student non-members). And even after the early bird has flown the coup, prices don’t increase all that much.

Note that this doesn’t include travel or lodging. But with multiple airports and locations close to DC’s metro, there are certainly options that can fit your budget. And if you’re a DMV resident, all the better – hop on the metro and come on down!

2) It’s also less intimidating than other conferences

Going to a big academic conference can be scary. Big wigs in your field are likely there, and chances are you’re presenting a poster or even (shudder) giving an oral presentation. There’s pressure to sound and act intelligent and knowing, especially if your PI is also attending. And let’s not forget every person’s nightmare – a jerk calling them out and belittling their project and data.

The AAAS Annual Meeting is nothing like that. I’m not quite sure what it is, but the vibe is much more laid-back and friendly. Perhaps it’s the fact that the conference has a huge mix of workshops and other sessions rather than just academic talks. Or maybe it’s also the fact that the conference is much more general and spans a multitude of scientific fields. Whatever it is, the stakes feel lower.

3) There are a ton of career development sessions and workshops

Make no mistake – the AAAS Annual Meeting is going to have a slew of fantastic scientific sessions across a variety of disciplines as well as plenaries abound. In addition, though, there are also plenty of workshops and resources to help you explore and grow in your career. 

So much so, in fact, that you’ll probably have a hard time planning out your schedule. Over the years that’s one of the big complaints I’ve heard about the AAAS Meeting – that you can’t yet clone yourself to attend all the sessions you likely want to go to. 

Here’s just a smattering of what you can expect:

  • Speed networking
  • Receptions and socials for shared interests
  • Resources to help you get involved in local science policy engagement
  • Navigating career pathways
  • Science communication tools and best practices
  • Tips, tricks, and strategies on how to build trust and tell compelling scientific stories
  • Negotiation skills
  • Creating your elevator pitch
  • Driving DE&I in STEM

If you’ve also been eyeing the AAAS Science and Technology Fellowship, there are also multiple opportunities to learn how to apply, what to expect, and network with current fellows.

Check out the entire program here: https://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2023/meetingapp.cgi/ModuleProgramBook/0

4) It’s a great way to break into online science communities

Many conferences nowadays try to utilize hashtags to promote Twitter discussions. Let’s be honest, though – most of the time you only have ~5-10 people using it at most, usually talking about how “So-and-so presented some beautiful data on XYZ.” It can be a bit…well..boring.

Comparatively, the #AAASmtg hashtag is like drinking from a firehose. Hundreds, if not thousands of people use the hashtag to live-tweet insights and thoughts from each session, usually garnering conversation between other attendees and session moderators. The banter is extremely active and very fast and furious. Get involved in the conversation, and chances are you’ll make some new contacts and connections in no time.

Pro-tip  – use a tool like TweetDeck to keep a pulse on multiple topics and hashtags at once.

Will you be going? If so, reach out to me on LinkedIn, and let’s try to connect!