This past week I attended an astronomy seminar in Scott Lab. There were many seminars that I could choose from, including a chemical engineering one, which aligns with my major. However, each of these seminars were geared towards graduate students, so when I read the descriptions for each of the seminars, I felt like I wouldn’t understand any part of the chemical engineering discussion. For this reason, I looked at the description of the astronomy seminar and I thought that they used terms that I understood to a certain extent. Obviously they were going to go in much more depth than I could understand, but I felt that I had the greatest baseline for this seminar over all of the other options. I went to the seminar with a couple of my friends which also made for an interesting discussion afterwards, as we tried to grasp the concept better.
The seminar was about the “Determination of the Evolutionary States of Red Giant Stars through the use of Seismology.” I chose this seminar, because I know a little bit about red giant stars and seismology techniques, plus it seemed interesting. The man who presented the seminar was actually from France and developed a renowned technique for using seismology to find out more about red giant stars. I did walk in not expecting to completely understand the topic, but I think I was surprised by how little I knew. Most of the presentation included graphs that I didn’t know how to read analytically, however there were many graduate students who did understand enough to ask questions about various data. These questions helped me to understand the concepts better, because they essentially broke the information down into simpler ideas that I could use my baseline knowledge to understand. Another challenge was the fact that his french accent did make it more difficult to understand what he was saying, but I think that forced me to pay attention more, which ultimately allowed me to take more away from his presentation. I did somewhat feel that I didn’t belong, but I was also interested enough to try to understand to the best of my ability.
I think the most rewarding part of the seminar was when I thought of a question that I would’ve asked had I not felt out of place, that a graduate student actually ended up asking. It was kinda like, “wow maybe I am understanding this.” It really made me realize that the little bits of information that an underclassman understands from these seminars is valuable. This small piece of information that I was able to understand truly made the seminar feel like it was worth it. I walked away with more knowledge than I walked in with. Additionally, when we left, my friends and I talked about the seminar and what we understood. It seemed like most of us were able to understand the same parts of the presentation and we were able to affirm the fact that we did learn something from the seminar. Overall, I think my first experience attending a seminar has really encouraged me to attend more in the future.