The 8th annual Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon) was held at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, MT from June 5-8, 2011. AbGradCon is unique in that it is organized by and targeted toward graduate students and postdocs, no more than three years from receiving their PhD, from across the sub-disciplines of astrobiology. This year's conference organization required two years of collaboration between students in Colorado and Montana, with great results.
In total there were 72 attendees at AbGradCon, including 8 international attendees from 7 different countries (Australia, Canada, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Scotland). The disciplines of the attendees were well distributed across astrobiology, with representation from the geological sciences (20 attendees), biological sciences (19), chemistry (15), astronomy and physics (12), and engineering/other (6). All attendees presented their work either with a 12-minute talk or a two-minute lightening talk and a poster.
The scientific program for AbGradCon 2011 consisted of two full days of talks, broken into eight different sessions on fairly broad topics, followed by afternoon poster sessions. All of the talks were broadcast live online in an Adobe Connect Meeting Room and recorded, and are now available on the conference website. The conference program also included three different career development activities. The first was "NASA Night", an informal and very popular presentation and discussion by Dr. Shawn Domagal-Goldman (NASA HQ) about opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, research grants and programs, missions, and other opportunities with NASA. Second, the invited speaker for the conference banquet, Dr. Kevin Hand (JPL), gave an inspirational talk about his career path titled "Adventures in Astrobiology: A Random Walk to a Known Goal." The third career development opportunity was the "Europa Collaborative Session." This was an informal presentation by Dr. James Kinsey (WHOI) titled "Analogues for Astrobiological Exploration in the Earth's Deep Oceans with the National Deep Submergence Facility Vehicles: Current ASTEP Programs and Future Opportunities". The feedback from conference participants was that these events were very useful for learning about opportunities, as well as for starting conversations with each other about future research and outreach projects.