Going south

Good afternoon! This post is the first of a trilogy of entries inspired by my recent visit to Colombia. This post explains my reasons for going to Colombia, and (related, I promise!) explores some reasons volcanologists may wish to attend international conferences.

10,635 kilometres separate Bristol from the industrial city of Antofagasta in northern Chile. I applied, and was accepted, to present my research at ALVO 2019, the inaugural conference for the Association of Latin American Volcanologists (Asociación Latinoamericana de Volcanologia). The recent protests sparked across Chile in response to long-standing social inequalities, and subsequent rioting fuelled by President Piñera’s response, has led to the postponement of this conference until March 2020. The conference organizers presented the news as such:

It is known to all that in Chile a socio-political crisis exploded that has led to the declaration of a state of emergency and curfew in the main cities of the country. Under the conditions of the state of emergency, the right to meetings and travel during the night are restricted. This situation has led to various institutions, including universities, temporarily closing their doors. The 1st ALVO Congress would have brought to Antofagasta more than 250 people, a number that cannot be realized in the current situation. In addition to this important point, the curfew prohibits the movement of people and vehicles from the early evening hours and demonstrations are occurring throughout the country, unfortunately with military intervention in many cases. Even considering the end of the demonstrations, the state of emergency concludes on November 3, the date on which the congress should have started, and there is not enough time for the procedures and logistics that must be completed at the Universidad Católica del Norte, given that the university is closed at least until November 4.

The organizers of the conference were right to postpone it. However, I received the news at an inopportune moment, reading the words above while in the immigration queue in Bogotá airport! As it was too late to change flights, I had to plan alternative arrangements that made the best of the situation. These events also made me examine again my reasons for travelling so far to share my poster. Am I justified in doing so, given both the extensive environmental impact and the uncertain academic impact that my journey will have?

After thinking this over, I clarified my main reasons for wanting to attend ALVO. I imagine that other academics would agree:

  • Networking: attending conferences is, in my opinion, the most effective way to meet other academics with whom you may have common research interests. This may happen by serendipity or by proactively arranging meetings with other academics you know are attending. I have personally benefitted from networking while at conferences (for example, I met one of my supervisors at a Geological Society conference in London).
  • Exposure: Where else would you be able to guarantee that your work is seen by hundreds of pairs of eyes in a single day? The exact outcomes of this exposure may be uncertain, but in terms of increasing the visibility of your results, there’s nothing better.
  • Raising the profile of your discipline: particularly if you work in a niche field of research, conferences are unparalleled for the possibility of making your field more known to others. While this point is similar to the one above, I would say exposure raises the profile of work already done, whereas in this case you are making your work visible to those who can offer you directions for future research.
  • Gaining perspective: It’s always good to go to a conference with goals. One of mine for ALVO was to learn more about the institutional response to the Chaiten crisis in 2008, and lessons learned after the event. Gaining perspective from similar events can put your own research into context, and it is extremely difficult to get this perspective outside of a conference.

I think those seem like good reasons to attend! Alas it wasn’t meant to be, but I hope that I will be able to realize another similar opportunity soon. Also, although attending a conference means that that gaining perspective and sharing your research with a relevant audience are much more likely to happen, it isn’t a guarantee. Perhaps I can attempt to meet some of the goals above in a more modest way. So, see below for the research that I was going to present at ALVO.

Here is the poster:


And you can find PDFs of the poster here, free to download:

Version español

English version

I didn’t make it to Chile, but I went most of the way there: 8,328 kilometres between Bristol and Bogotá. What I learned there is the subject of the next two blog posts. Hope to see you next time.

2 thoughts on “Going south

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