By Thomas Kirk, Undergrad Student, James Madison University, B.S. GISc Major, Harrison, VA
Thomas stands proudly next to his poster at the AAG Conference in Los Angeles, CA.
My journey to the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting began with a very determined professor.  

He informed me and three classmates in my senior capstone class that we were going to Los Angeles to present our work. 

At first I was apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference, or what other attendees would expect from my presentation. 

I’d been to one geography conference before, but I'd never shared my own work. 
My professor was not swayed and convinced us that this would be a valuable opportunity to brush shoulders with fellow geographers and display our research.  My university was very supportive and, after we filled out a brief application of where and why we were going, provided us with travel grants that subsidized most of the trip.

I decided to present my work as a poster with my project partner rather than do an oral presentation, because I thought it would be less stressful and a better way to engage in conversations about my work. I’m glad I went this route and found the experience to be very enjoyable. 

While I didn’t get to meet and impress Jared Diamond (one my favorite geographic authors) with my project, many others came by and our conversations helped to illuminate future applications or studies of my project. For example, one suggestion we received was to expand our urban sustainability mapping project to cities outside of the United States. 

Attending vs. Presenting at a Conference

I attended my first conference in 2012 in Washington, D.C..  In comparison to the AAG Annual Meeting, the ESRI Federal User Conference was a much smaller event that focused on the technical applications of GIS for government needs and less on the individual research of geographers. Even though I had this previous experience, I was still overwhelmed by the AAG event given the vast amount of lectures, posters, and presentations offered simultaneously

One great aspect of a very large conference like AAG is that you can indulge every interest in geography you have. In addition to presenting, I attended sessions on biogeography, the future of geography, and biblical geography. The presentations were all fascinating, but the best part of the conference was meeting other geographers. I connected with people in various stages of their careers, networked, and even found several alumni from my university!

Compared my experience at the ESRI FedUC, as just an attendee, I feel that I got a lot more out of the AAG event.   Showing my work gave me a sense of belonging, though I still feel that I could have seen more, slept less, and networked further.  I’m looking forward to my next conference experience and I’m glad to have a professor that isn’t afraid to push me. 

If you’ve never been to a conference and are on the fence about attending, I strongly encourage you to go.  It’ll be well worth your time.


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