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Melissa Kern

Postcard from Prague

Posted by Melissa Kern Aug 30, 2012

The first couple of days in Prague were a whirlwind. It was mostly a jetlag blur of meeting lots of people, getting acquainted with the public transportation and trying to take in the breathtaking beauty of Prague. After a few days in Prague, I am started to get a feel for the city. I can see why so many people told me it is their favorite European city. The buildings are spectacular and each one is different from the next. At any moment walking down the street, you can come across a large cathedral with stain glass windows, a building with ornate carvings and gargoyles, or a beautiful statue in the middle of a cobblestone roundabout. There is really no opportunity to put the camera back in the case.

 

I think another reason people love Prague is the laid-back vibe of the city. Even on the public transportation during commuter hours, no one is pushy and no one seems in a huge hurry. From my limited interactions and observations thus far, my feeling is that there is an underlying kindness beneath a ‘just going about my business’ sort of attitude. This comes from the smiling graduate student at the poster session, the young man on the bus who got off to help an older woman, and the strangers who have stopped and helped us without a hint of agitation. I defiantly hope to spend more time in Prague and to see the rest of the Czech Republic in the future.

A very exciting aspect of this experience in Prague organized by the ACS is the focus on professional development. Today we went to the US Embassy here in Prague to learn about funding opportunities in the Czech Republic and all of Europe. The format and information of this event was even better than I had anticipated. In a small room in the American Center next to the Embassy, we were given talks by and exclusive access to representatives from the Fulbright, the Marie Curie awards, Czech University PIs, and a local Czech fellowship. As I am seriously considering Europe as my what comes next, I found it extremely useful and encouraging. However, I had not given much thought into the Czech Republic for a postdoc. Hearing about the amount of investment being put into scientific research in Brno has caused me to take notice. For me, it is not only about the new lab facilities or the fellowship opportunities. The level of commitment to building a strong, interdisciplinary, sustainable research program and the apparent excitement by the active participants is fthe most intriguing.

Melissa Kern

Back to Basics

Posted by Melissa Kern Aug 30, 2012

The Plenary talk by Helmut Schwarz has by far been one of my favorites of the conference. I really liked the hand-written slides with reactions, thoughts and notes; though I feel empathy for the graduate student who probably had to scan in all of those slides. There was a real lecture type vibe and the hand-written slides somehow made me feel more connected to the thought process and motivation throughout his research.  There have been many impressive images throughout the conference, but somehow, hand-written diagrams and reactions really pulled me in.  I also think it brought home the point that the reactions he discussed, reactions with methane, are very simple on paper. But like so many things in science, what looks easy on paper is much more elusive in practice.

When I am at a conference such as this one, I also feel there is so much that I still need to learn. There are so many intelligent scientists doing excellent work and the world of scientific knowledge is so vast and always expanding. But for all of the things we collectively know and all of the complicated processes explained, there is still so much we don’t know. Schwarz made this point with his ‘simple’ reactions written out like we would in Organic I and it is something I have thought about before. The idea that my knowledge is just a small fraction of what is known and what is known is just a small fraction of what there is to know, is humbling and overwhelming. However, it also gives me hope and motivates me to go after more – one small chunk of knowledge at a time. I will return from Prague with a bit more scientific knowledge that I came with and renewed enthusiasm for going forward.


I am currently at the EuCheMS in Prague.  I am fortunate enough to be involved in two programs that have sponsored my trip - the ACS travel award and the Young Chemist Crossing Borders (YCCB).  As everyone is familiar with the ACS, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the European Young Chemists Network (EYCN), which sponsors the YCCB.  At the ACS national meeting last fall in Denver, myself and five other Colorado graduate students hosted a group from the EYCN.  The EYCN is mostly composed of graduate students with some young professors and professionals.  This fall, members of the EYCN are returning the favor and doing an excellent job hosting. 

Last night the ACS hosted a dinner at an excellent Czech restaurant and many delegates from the EYCN attended.  This gave us ACS students the opportunity to interact with our colleagues in Europe and share our graduate school experiences, among many other things.  I finally got a chance to learn more about the EYCN, which is an impressive organization.  The EYCN is made up completely of young chemists, under the age of 35.  This group of young chemists from across Europe, mostly students, is able to organize and raise all of their funds based on sponsorships from industry.  There are delegates from each country, all of the positions are volunteer, and everyone works together.  To me, it is an amazing feat that this organization is able to hold such wonderful programs, such as the YCCB, with no central funding source and no permanent or full-time positions.  I have really enjoyed getting to know young chemists from across Europe, many of whom at the same point in their career as myself.  I look forward to sharing the rest of the week with them as well as my fellow ACS students.  The two combined groups are full of bright young chemists who I look forward to being colleagues and friends with in the future.

 

Short note:  This was written at the beginning of the week.  I have been recording my experiences as they happen but due to time and a packed schedule, unable to post them immediately.