by Amber Mrnak
This past February, many current and former TLS students and scientists gathered in Stevens Point for the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (WI AFS). AFS bills itself as “the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession” and participating graduate students, undergraduates, and professionals had opportunities to network and share their research with other fisheries researchers from across the state.
PhD candidates Joe Mrnak and Quinn Smith have been WI AFS members for years and encourage students they mentor to become involved. This year, that meant taking all five of their 2022 summer undergraduate students to the conference. When asked what they gained from the opportunity, Joe answered “What didn’t they gain?” Professional societies offer a safe and nurturing environment for students at any stage in their careers and “provide opportunities to network, collaborate, learn science, generate new ideas, and sit in on talks,” he says.
One experience that was new to many of the undergraduates was presenting their research during a scientific poster session at the conference. “It was incredibly rewarding to watch students progress through the different parts of science,” Quinn says, “from forming questions and a hypothesis, conducting field work, analyzing the data and then communicating [their] results.”
Joe notes that “until you start publishing papers, presentations [at conferences like this] are the currency in our field.” Whether presenting or not, everyone made connections with many established professionals, had conversations with people pursuing similar research, talked to prospective graduate advisors and employers, and attended professional development workshops- one of which was co-led by Joe called Tips and Tricks to Become a Successful Researcher. Why is getting students involved in AFS so important? “AFS has done so much for me, it got me to where I am,” Joe says. “Pay it forward.”