The 2016 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference: Seven Big Themes

by Heather Thorstensen | Nov 16, 2016

This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi President Tee Guidotti.

Tee Guidotti

Sigma Xi conferences are always wondrous affairs, bringing together speakers on outstanding science, extraordinarily talented students, their dedicated advisors, science policy wonks, and people who just plain care. The meeting that just ended featured these key themes:

Opportunity: Procter Prize awardee Jan Achenbach spoke on waves and the development of nondestructive testing. He advised students seeking research projects to be like surfers: ride a sturdy board (of preparation and mastery) as far out as possible and catch the wave of a scientific problem and ride it back to the beach! 

Groundedness (in the good sense, not the aviation sense!): Norman Augustine, the first recipient of the new Sigma Xi Gold Key Award, revealed that through a long career as an aeronautical engineer, CEO of Lockheed Martin, and years of public service in science, he thought of Sigma Xi as, to paraphrase his words, a scientific “home.”

Entrepreneurship: McGovern awardee Paul Sanberg told how his career of developing and applying effective stem cell treatments was shaped by his father’s stroke. He encouraged us to embrace entrepreneurship as the most direct means of getting science used for the good. 

Interdisciplinary: Young Investigator awardee Tiago Falk epitomized interdisciplinary research by fusing multimedia technology with medical applications with striking results, allowing both individualization of care management and socialization of profoundly disabled persons. 

Perspicacity (as the capacity to see deeply into things): Chubb awardee Akhlesh Lakhtakia described foundational techniques of nanoengineering based on filamentous structures with unique and useful properties. Much of his work rests on understanding chirality, because the same thing, taken in a new orientation, yields different insights and possibilities. 

Diversity and Inclusiveness: The creation of Sigma Xi's new Diversity Task Force, established during the meeting, stimulated much thoughtful discussion on reducing barriers as a matter of justice and on promoting inclusiveness to unlock the creativity and insight brought to science by diversity in life experience, perspective, and individual talent.

Mentorship: High school, undergraduate, and graduate students brought enthusiasm and energy to the conference as they competed for poster presentation awards and attended career development sessions. The students were challenged with finding mentors at the conference, and the successful new STEM Mixer provided dedicated and valuable time for networking between student and professional researchers.

The conference was also a cornucopia of ideas on science communication, science policy (both “policy for science” and “science for policy”), entrepreneurship, and career development. Effective science communication was vividly demonstrated by the special viewing of a stunning new film by Ross Spears: The Truth About Trees.

Sigma Xi also celebrated its own leaders, honoring Cristina (Tina) Gouin-Paul with the 2016 Evan Ferguson Award. Dr. Ferguson’s life was dedicated to the Society and Tina’s contributions to the organization are in keeping with his memory. Tina played a key role behind a series of motions passed at the meeting to improve Sigma Xi’s management and efficiency, yet another step in putting the Society’s recent fiscal and management obstacles behind it.

The meeting ended with a promise and a glimpse of the future. There will be no annual meeting in calendar year 2017, because Sigma Xi is aligning its meeting years with its elections and fiscal years meeting schedule. When we reconvene in 2018, the quality and excitement of the 2016 meeting will be remembered as a model and inspiration. 

Running through the entire meeting was a growing sense of career-long preparation in Sigma Xi’s passions: a responsibility of paying forward, paying now, and paying back. 

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