Students to organize international polar research conference
From left, geography graduate students Rachel Bernstein, Penelope Wagner and Gina Henderson are teaming up to organize an international polar research conference for students.

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8:57 a.m., Jan. 20, 2010----Three University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) graduate students are not only planning to present their research at an international conference, they are organizing the entire event.

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Geography students Penelope Wagner, Rachel Bernstein and Gina Henderson have earned an invitation from Gordon Research Conferences (GRC) to host a two-day student conference as part of its March 2011 Polar Marine Science meeting in Ventura, Calif.

“Gordon Research Conferences are a top-notch, international series of conferences that sponsor some of the most cutting-edge research that's available in the world today,” said Cathleen Geiger, research associate professor in geography and adviser to Wagner and Bernstein.

“This is a very high-level role,” Geiger said. “Plus, these students have a framework to work from, and they're getting to do this before they even get a Ph.D.”

In addition to $5,000, the students will receive training from GRC as well as support from leading scientists in their field. Also providing help will be the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), a student organization developed as a result of the 2007-09 International Polar Year that is aimed at stimulating research collaborations and developing future leaders in the polar field.

The conference is an international and interdisciplinary event organized by graduate students for graduate students to share their current cutting-edge research with their peers and get peer-to-peer feedback. Most of its 50-60 participants will also attend the professional five-day GRC Polar Marine Science Conference, which will be held immediately following the student event.

While GRC events in other disciplines have added such a conference for students, this will be the first one the for the polar marine science field.

Wagner, a first-year doctoral student and the driving force behind the effort, will chair the organizing committee with master's student Bernstein as co-chair. Rounding out the team is Henderson, a doctoral student studying with Dan Leathers, professor of geography.

The conference, “Bridging the Gap in Our Understanding of the Polar Sciences,” will focus on advances in new methodology. In addition to research presentations, the students will take part in a workshop that will give them early career development guidance and introduce them to APECS.

“I'm really excited to develop the skills to organize something like this,” said Wagner, who is currently working under a three-year NASA fellowship and whose research focuses on Antarctic sea ice.

Those skills and experiences, Geiger said, will be invaluable. The students will be coordinating and interacting with professionals at every level of their discipline. They'll be developing professional relationships that will last their entire careers. And they'll be getting first-hand exposure to life as a professional.

“To have that kind of insight before you finish your graduate work really helps in terms of launching your career,” Geiger said.

For more about CEOE, visit the college Web site.

Photo by Elizabeth Boyle

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