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Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Jenna Spencer-Briggs, reports from Boston, USA

Jenna Spenser-Briggs

8 Nov 2018

Jenna Spencer-Briggs was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 256th ACS National Meeting & Exposition, Boston, USA. Here she tells us about how she improved her presentation skills during her poster presentation, attended interesting talks and made new networking connections which will help in her current research and future career opportunities.

‘I am a final year PhD student at the University of Sheffield with an interest in asymmetric organocatalysed cycloadditions. In the past few months, I have had some interesting results and revelled at the chance to share my findings with fellow chemists.

‘I was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary, from the SCI so that I could attend the 256th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition held in Boston, MA, USA between 19th - 23rd August 2018. This award meant that I could travel to my first international conference and present a poster of my work to the attendees.

‘The ACS National Meeting is one of the biggest chemistry conferences in the world. This year there were 14,500 attendees and 10,543 papers presented! There are more than 100 talks going on at any given time, so the choice can be a little overwhelming; however, the conference is very well organised, so I managed to find my way around. I used both a printed schedule of the talks, as well as the ACS app to help plan out my conference days and prioritise the talks that I wanted to go to.

‘I presented my poster in the ORGN session on the Sunday evening. I gave a background to my work and discussed the significant results that I have attained with around 15 people. These discussions prompted interesting questions about the work I had already done from people working in and out of my field. I also received some useful suggestions for future work. I am glad that I had the opportunity to present a poster, as I had a chance to network and have dynamic conversations about my work with fellow students, academics and those with an industrial background. This was also my first opportunity to present to anyone outside of my University, and it has greatly improved my confidence and presentation skills.

‘I attended over 30 talks over the four days of the conference, choosing mainly to attend the Organic Division sessions, as these are most closely related to my research area. Lee Hood gave a fascinating talk on how “21st Century Medicine Will Transform Healthcare”, this was the opening session that really encapsulated the “Nanoscience, Nanotechnology & Beyond” theme of the conference. I attended the Tetrahedron Prize session and particularly enjoyed a talk from Emily Balskus on “Deciphering the Human Microbiota with Chemistry”. My favourite talk of the whole conference was, Arthur C. Cope Award Winner, Steven V. Ley on “Natural Product Synthesis as an Inspiration for Discovery”. He discussed how flow chemistry has developed and evolved into a brilliant method for the synthesis of natural products, and did so in a very engaging and entertaining manner. I also attended a variety of student talks; one student from Aarhus Universitet, Denmark was working on a similar field to me. It was interesting to see that we had come across the same hurdles and talking to him at the end of his presentation has inspired me to apply one of the catalysts he used to my own research.

‘Throughout my PhD I have also been a graduate teaching assistant, mainly demonstrating to our undergraduate students in the teaching laboratories. Through this I have developed a keen interest in Chemical Education and I managed to attend some very thought provoking sessions run by the Chemical Education section.

The exposition opened on the Sunday evening and closed on the Tuesday. It consisted of a variety of exhibitors from publishers to glassware manufacturers, making humungous reaction vessels. As chemical and consumables purchaser for my research group it was great to put some faces to names and network with other potential suppliers. The ACS were celebrating the 140th year of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), so there was a big stand for that. CAS were also launching SciFindern, their new tool to search for and access information. I received a tutorial on how to use it, and I really hope that my University adopts it soon! The exposition was also a fantastic place to get some amazing freebies such as a periodic table lanyard, an Einstein stress reliever, a portable phone charger and more pens than I will ever need.

‘Within the exposition the ACS had set up a Career Fair. I had a LinkedIn profile review appointment with Sandra Long, a LinkedIn specialist. This appointment helped me to make my profile more professional, and pointed out some settings that I had missed, to ensure that my profile can be seen by potential employers. I hope that the tips that I learned from this appointment will help with finding a future career.

‘This conference was also my first trip to the USA and Boston was a perfect city for a first timer. During my free time I explored Harvard and walked the Freedom Trail, a self-guided tour through the city’s historical monuments. I also went to a Boston Red Sox game, with fellow conference attendee Rosie Jarrald, which was a great experience (once we understood the rules).

‘Overall, the opportunity to attend the ACS conference was an invaluable experience for me, both for my current research and my hopes of finding a career through the networking connections I made. It was fantastic to present the work that I have done during my PhD to likeminded individuals and get some great feedback and suggestions for future work.  I would like to thank the SCI for the Messel Bursary which gave me the opportunity to attend this conference, without them I wouldn’t have been able to go. I would recommend ACS National Meetings to any postgraduate student hoping to present their research and attend talks from some interesting speakers across all areas of chemistry. ’

Jenna Spencer-Briggs
PhD Student
University of Sheffield

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