Monday, October 4, 2010

Conference Notebook: DPS

This week I'm at the Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) Conference in Pasadena, California. I'm excited because this is the first major planetary conference I've been to since I graduated nearly two years ago. In some ways it's a bit sad that I haven't been able to attend any of the big ones. No AGUFM (American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, held yearly in San Francisco, California during the middle of December), no LPSC (Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held yearly in Houston, Texas) and no DPS. LPSC in particular hurts, since I had a good streak of attendance going from 2004-2007 and since then I haven't been back. However, I see my attendance at DPS this year as evidence that things are on a bit of an upswing for me as I head towards my first true Planetary Science postdoc starting in December.

So what is the DPS? Well, technically, the division is part of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and all DPS members are members of the AAS as well. However, you might be surprised to learn that there is relatively little mixing between those who attend the big AAS meetings and those who attend DPS. This is in contrast to the situation over at the AGU, where the big conference (AGUFM) takes precedence. The reason for this lies in a strange twist of fate. In the United States, at least, planetary science has historically been associated with planetary exploration and shares a bit of a kinship with the human exploration program in NASA as being robotic precursors after a fashion. As such, planetary science has its own constituency down here, its own decadal survey, its own budgets, research institutions and granting programs and in some cases its own departments.

In Canada, planetary science is more of a subfield of many other fields. Thus there are glaciologists who study the polar caps of Mars, atmospheric scientists who look at the clouds, astronomers who study the dynamics. The main unifying trait, is that in Canada the work of planetary science is not conducted by dedicated planetary scientists as much as it is done on a part time basis by scientists trained in other fields. In practice this makes it difficult to assemble something called planetary science from its constituent parts. It also means that different fields of planetary science are more distant from one another in Canada and there is relatively little mixing. Where it would be trivial to answer questions across the field in some US departments, the insular nature of the beast in Canada makes it almost impossible to do this without switching departments or universities.

It's for this reason that DPS and LPSC are such treats. I look forward to a great week of catching up with old friends, making new collaborations and learning new science, getting inspired to do future work, learning about my career possibilities, and even canning a few interviews for ! We got off to a great start yesterday with the Early Career session, which highlighted one shortcoming of the granting system in Canada, its opacity. That gives me a strong action item for when I get back to see if I can decipher how to get funds.

With luck I'll be able to run some more updates this week, and there's a few posts I've been putting off that I hope to get to. I'd love to stay at chat, but I must run off to a session. Follow me over on Twitter @ArcticSaxifrage and the conference at large using #DPS2010.

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