American Ornithologists Union focuses on fledging early career professionals

It is a hot Friday morning, the second to last day of an intimate AOU-COS meeting on the University of Oklahoma campus, and a big day for my lab. A number of my students are giving their first conference talks and have the jitters. I’ve listened to renditions between sessions and late into the night. I remember the not too distant past when I stood nervous in my PI’s room, making yet another attempt to get through my talk in 12 minutes flat. My students’ talks seem so much better than the first ones that I wrote. I’m proud of them, although this doesn’t allay their nervousness one bit. This is also a big day for me, as I’m giving my first plenary. The invitation was unexpected. I am a third year faculty member, still making all the typical fledgling mistakes – ‘wait that $5000 centrifuge rotor doesn’t actually work with our plates?!’ – and only distantly considering a keynote should my H-index ever see the backside of 50 (side note – mine is 14).

This opportunity, and many similar ones occurring right now in AOU, is part of the efforts of Scott Lanyon, the current president, to embrace and encourage early career professionals. This is the second AOU-COS meeting to devote an afternoon to lightning-5-minute-auto slide advance talks by young professionals followed by a mentoring social. Each early career person is paired with a senior scientist and given detailed feedback on presentation style and interview techniques. This occurred yesterday and the room was packed, everyone eager to learn about the budding research programs of ten ornithologists. I wished this opportunity existed when I was about to enter the job market. Knowing how to sell your ideas in a cogent, exciting package is key in this tight job market. Several of the presentations were spotless, and the research presented cutting-edge. I suddenly realized that perhaps I wasn’t so early career anymore; with this young group about to fledge, it was time to stop reminiscing and get on with my own presentation. Wish me luck!

Elizabeth Derryberry
Associate Editor, Journal of Animal Ecology

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