A summer camp for scientists

Contribution by Lina Stein

If you work in research, sooner or later you will be asked to attend a scientific conference. In Hydrology, there is a whole host of conferences to choose from. The usual suspects would be the big ones: AGU, EGU, IAHS… but what about the small ones? Here, I want to talk about a small conference that I went to a few years ago (in 2019 to be exact), the Gordon Research Conference. I liked it so much that I directly volunteered to be the early career chair for the next one. Well, with Covid that chair position took a bit longer that usual, but this year, finally, the next Gordon Research Conference (or GRC for short) in Catchment Science will take place.

The Gordon Research Conference in Catchment Science: Interactions of Hydrology, Biology and Geochemistry is a five-day conference in New Hampshire, USA, every two years. In the two days before the GRC the Gordon Research Seminar (GRS), the early career conference takes place.

Usually 100-150 people attend so by the end of the week I probably had talked with every attendee there at least once. The unique part of the GRC is its location and structure. It is at a boarding school in remote New Hampshire, thus creating lots of time for shared meals and shared activities. During the day, there are talks in the morning and evening, but the afternoons are free to explore. Be it for a swim in the lake, a hike, soccer game or leisurely discussion with other scientists. And importantly, there are no parallel sessions, everyone attends every session.

All talks at GRC are invited experts of their field, which ensures a high quality, but everyone gets an opportunity to present their research via posters. For the early career GRS, only one speaker is invited in advance. This year, our keynote speaker will be Karletta Chief from the University of Arizona, whose research focusses on climate change impacts on water resources and indigenous people. All other speakers will be graduate students, post-docs, and early career scientists chosen from the submitted abstracts. The GRS ends (and transitions into the GRC) with a panel discussion around three careers in science (with speakers Eugènia Martí Roca (CEAB); Jamie Shanley, USGS; and Hilary McMillan, San Diego State University).

Hilary, who is also one of the GRC vice-chairs, expresses the GRC spirit perfectly:

“I became vice-chair of the GRC because it is the best conference I have ever been to. I love the format of longer, invited talks that are similar in quality to conference medal lectures and leave me with lots of new ideas. The atmosphere of the conference with a smaller group of scientists, shared meals, and free time in the afternoons for informal activities and networking provides many opportunities to meet new people and create new collaborations.”

For those of you that find networking a scary word, networking at GRC means you get to have breakfast and talk about cereal preferences with the professor you admire. Or you go for a swim in the lake and start developing a new research idea with a PhD student from the other side of the world. Or you sit by the campfire and connect over your shared preference of R over Python. Ingo Heidbüchel, Vice-Chair for the GRC, thinks the same:

Ingo: “the GRC is my favorite conference because it combines the perfect size with the perfect setting and the perfect mix of participants. By the end of the week you have made so many new connections. It’s because you simply cannot escape the other scientists – there is no bustling city around, just beautiful nature. So you have to talk to the others and they have to talk to you. Fortunately, catchment scientists are generally very nice people. Also, as a young researcher you get the chance to meet some of the famous professors in a relaxed environment. Since I did my PhD in Arizona my aim was to maintain the intercontinental collaboration with the US, the GRC is the ideal scientific bridge between the continents – therefore I wanted to chair the conference.”

I would love to show you some pictures of the conference itself, but that is one of peculiarities of this conference: no pictures allowed. All research presented is novel and unpublished, which means that there is a strict no sharing policy in place (at least for the science part). So here is what I can share.

The fireplace (by Ingo Heidbüchel)
Amazing views during the hike

To finish up, I think the best definition (and one often heard when it comes to GRC) is that GRC is like a summer camp for scientists. Sarah Godsey, current GRC chair, agrees:

“What do I like about the GRC? It’s basically a science camp for nerds who like to think about water and why water matters in this world. I love the unstructured afternoons, sharing meals with scientists across all career stages, and learning new things every time I go. I volunteered to become a chair because I also think that opportunities like this can help build community and because the GRC was instrumental in supporting my own career, and I wanted to offer that opportunity to others.”

(P.S.: if you are also interested in becoming more involved in the hydrologic community, have a look at this open call for the EGU Hydrology early career representative)

And if you are now interested in attending yourself, the next GRS/GRC is taking place from 17th to 23rd of June, 2023. If you want to be considered for an oral presentation during the GRS, make sure to submit your abstract by 12th of March.

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