Students & Young Professionals

Student Poster Competition: From Participant to Judge

Joshua Baghdady, OES Student Poster Competition winner OCEANS’16 Monterey

I first learned of the OCEANS Student Poster Competition (SPC) as a first-year graduate student through my advisor at Clemson University. Since my research was centered on the topic of underwater optical communications, I had already been to a handful of optics-centric meetings, but I had not as yet had the opportunity to share my work with the marine technology community. My advisor thus encouraged me to submit an abstract for consideration for inclusion in the SPC. Having noted that the next meeting was scheduled to take place in the beautiful Monterey, California, I was more than happy to oblige. A few weeks later I learned that my abstract had been accepted, and I began preparing my poster and making my travel arrangements to Monterey.

Over the week of the conference itself, I was pleased to see six countries represented among the 16 competitors and a wide variety of work across the spectrum of marine technology on display. As I passed the hours staffing my poster, I was able to mingle with my fellow competitors and introduce myself to the many professionals who stopped to digest my research. While not manning my poster, I was able to participate in the various other conference events such as the technical sessions, the industry exhibition, and the food-truck luncheons.

The gala at the Monterey conference was hosted on Wednesday night at the acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row in the heart of the old downtown area. It was there, during the public opening remarks, that the SPC awards ceremony was held and I was awarded the Norman Miller Prize for first place in the competition. As a result, the full text of the conference proceedings accompanying my poster was published in the December 2016 edition of the OES BEACON newsletter and may be found there on pages 46–49 under the title “Underwater optical communication link using Orbital Angular Momentum Space Division Multiplexing,” as well as on the digital IEEE Xplore® repository under the DOI 10.1109/OCEANS.2016.7761479.

Having gleaned much from the conference in Monterey, I returned to Clemson interested in attending future OCEANS meetings. Fortunately, an opportunity to do so presented itself ahead of the very next meeting and I jumped at the chance. The international OCEANS conference of 2017 took place in Aberdeen in Northeastern Scotland on the edge of the North Sea. Shortly after my arrival at the convention center Liesl Hotaling, the coordinator of the SPC, approached me in the atrium and asked if I would be willing to serve the competition as an additional judge. I gladly accepted this new role and shortly began mingling with the 20 students presenting work from 11 countries. Just as had been the case in Monterey, I was impressed with the depth and breadth of the work on display. Unlike my experience as a student, however, I was now able to spend time with each competitor and try to understand the solutions to the various problems that each had attempted to tackle in their own research. As a young judge, I enjoyed the unique advantage of viewing the students not as my successors but as my peers, conscious that the work that these young luminaries are doing is shaping how we all will interact with the oceans of tomorrow.

Even though I was a judge at this time, I was also still a graduate student myself. Consequentially, I was eligible to apply for the Marine Technology Society’s Dieter Family Scholarship, which awards travel and registration to one graduate student each year to the North American OCEANS conference. Shortly after returning from Scotland I learned that I had been awarded this scholarship for the upcoming meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, and so volunteered to serve as a judge there as well.

At the meeting in Anchorage, 20 students competed in the SPC from 10 different countries. Unlike in Aberdeen, in Anchorage the competitors did not know a priori that I was one of the judges. This allowed me to strike a more casual stance with the students and allowed them to present their work to me as they would to a colleague.

Having now attended three OCEANS meetings in a row, I hope to continue serving the conference in the future after I transition from graduate student to young professional. Unlike many topical conferences, OCEANS brings together thinkers from diverse professional backgrounds and allows them to mingle through a variety of social and technical programs. One such popular and recurring program is the Student Poster Competition, which gives visibility both to the work being done on the forefront of marine technology and to the students performing that work. The SPC not only gave me access to OCEANS, but also introduced me to the wider community of scientists and engineers working to improve and protect the ways in which we interact with our marine environments. I have been happy to volunteer as a judge at the 2017 meetings and I hope that my contributions help keep this program alive for future students to glean from the valuable interactions that OCEANS affords, just as I have begun to do myself.