I got woke at SACNAS

A picture of Kevin standing in front of his poster at SACNAS 2018.
Kevin standing proudly in front of his poster.

Kevin came to us a few years ago, and we’ve had the pleasure of working with him over two summer projects. His work involved the discovery and characterization of bacteriophages isolated from local sewage water, and he’s had the opportunity to present his work at multiple local symposia. We took him with us to SACNAS 2018 in San Antonio to his first national conference, and he shares his experience below.

I got woke at SACNAS

When I attended SACNAS I had never been to a science conference other than local symposia hosted by INBRE or the University of Hawaii (UH). Going to SACNAS with only these conferences as comparison I had no idea what was in store for me there. In the beginning I was just thinking that it was another opportunity to show off my work. Damn was I surprised when I got there. My most vivid memory was of the exhibition room, which I swear was the size of half of Leeward Community College, with huge ceilings and hundreds of exhibitors. As a soon to be graduate at UH each booth was like imagining a new possibility for my future. They had industries, PhD programs, and summer research opportunities. The possibilities seemed endless. I never truly realized that there were so many opportunities out there in STEM. Living in Hawaii for my whole life it was hard to fully comprehend because the islands have been your world for so long. I had a sense of it but it never really hit me like it did there in that exhibition hall where graduate programs and industries all over the US wanted students just like me. I felt wanted, it made me feel my education was really worth it.

The conference was buzzing with energy. Everyone was incredibly excited to be there and supportive of each other. I remember that support the most while presenting my poster. I shared great conversations with the judges. I felt many of them believed in me and my project; sometimes you need that especially when you find it hard to even believe in yourself. After talking with some of the judges they encouraged me to apply to their schools. I was surprised at how comfortable I had felt while presenting my work there. Unlike the smaller local conferences where I would normally be shaking, the atmosphere at SACNAS didn’t cause me to worry. There was less judgment and much more encouragement, which I think can really make or break a beginning STEM student. I had given one of my best poster presentations at this conference. That’s when I truly appreciated and understood how powerful surrounding yourself with others that accept and support you can be. It was really eye opening to experience the freeing feeling that you can really do just about anything and the people there really made me believe that. My desire to attend graduate school in the mainland was confirmed.

From this conference I was able to speak with one of the representatives from University of Pittsburgh. I received an application fee waiver from them encouraging me to apply and the rest is history. Now I’m attending University of Pittsburgh for my PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. I can’t thank my two INBRE foster fathers Dr. Kae and Dr. Neupane enough for pushing me to go to SACNAS and always lifting me up. It was nice to see that there are other mentors in the world who want to see you succeed like they do and just as supportive. Neupdawg and SpecialKae would probably argue those mentors are not as cool though.

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