By Hoang Anh Tu (Lavie) Nguyen, University of Saskatchewan

In September 2019 I attended my first Geological Society of America (GSA) Annual Meeting as an On To the Future scholar. I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in the geological sciences as well as opportunities for networking and improving soft skills, such as writing and communicating across disciplines. I was very impressed with how much information I received from attending the GSA Annual Meeting.

Lavie Nguyen, University of Saskatchewan, attending her first GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ.
Lavie Nguyen, University of Saskatchewan, attending her first GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

I was aware of the diversity of topics and the large number of attendees at the GSA Annual Meeting. When I arrived at the conference, however, I was very overwhelmed. Thankfully, there is On To the Future (OTF), a GSA program designed to support students. The OTF program not only provided funding to make it possible for students to attend the meeting, but also organized mentoring, a writing workshop and information sessions to help guide students.

I greatly appreciated the mentoring I received from Professor Nancy Riggs from Northern Arizona State University. Dr. Riggs and I were paired through the mentorship program organized by OTF. As I mentioned I was a bit overwhelmed as a first-time attendee, and Dr. Riggs  helped me stay calm; she provided support through casual conversations and suggested the best way to attend different technical sessions. She also gave me advice on the content of my oral presentation.

Copy of GSA-PH__1653
OTF Program information session led by GSA Councilor Marjorie Chan.

The writing workshop was another program from OTF which I particularly enjoyed. I have previously prepared cover letters for a variety of job and scholarship applications. however, I did not notice there was quite a major difference in the content of the cover letter for each type of application, until I attended the workshop. I learned that when I apply for a fellowship or a scholarship, I should elaborate more on the benefits I would receive from the experience. In contrast, when I apply for a job, I needed to explain how I would contribute to an organization. The order of of the content in the cover letter for different applications was also slightly different.

The GSA Annual Meeting covered many disciplines in the geosciences, which allowed me to explore how other disciplines contribute to my research in tectonic studies. It was a rare occasion, in my experience, to witness so much collaboration among disciplines in one meeting. Moreover, it was fascinating to observe how research in two different perspectives in geoscience come to the same conclusion. This is very important to my work, since I got a chance to learn how to integrate multiple lines of evidence to investigate plate tectonics. At the meeting, I also presented my current project and received a lot of feedback, which made a great impact on my view of my research. For example, some of the feedback I received emphasized on the significance of my study to the tectonic studies community. This feedback reaffirmed my decision to major and pursue a career in geological sciences. It also encouraged me to overcome obstacles to accomplishing my research goals, which I hope the community will greatly benefit from.

OTF group photo at the GSA 2019 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
OTF group photo at the GSA 2019 Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.

GSA’s Annual Meeting is a fantastic conference that I suggest everyone attend, because  I constantly learned new things and made connections with people from diverse backgrounds. People treated each other with respect and care in every conversation I had at the meeting, regardless of age, gender or the level of experience. Although I met students and professors from different disciplines, they were welcoming and interested in my project. They even provided guidance and advise on studies, which will be beneficial to my work. It was a pleasure to discuss such a variety of geoscience-related topics. Attendees such as professors and senior geologists were not only willing to share their experience, but they were also excited to help students or early-career professionals. The welcoming interactions and the support I received from the GSA inspire me to take steps to give back to the community. From the experience I had at the meeting, I would say the GSA Annual Meeting is definitely ‘beyond’ geological sciences!


On To the Future is a GSA program that supports students and recent graduates from underrepresented groups to attend their first GSA Annual Meeting. GSA is currently accepting applications for this program through 29 May 2020.