A Student Perspective at TRB
The 93rd Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board was exciting and intense, with thousands of presentations and attendees crammed into a five-day period. As a first time attendee, it was difficult to prepare and know what to expect, even though there were many helpful materials provided in advance about the conference. Nevertheless, the experience was enjoyable and packed with interesting presentations and people from all over the world. In addition, being able to explore the nation’s capitol was quite unique, an enjoyable side-benefit to traveling to Washington, D.C.
I arrived on Sunday afternoon, technically the first day of meetings, events, and poster sessions, and made it just in time for the University of Texas reception at the Marriott hotel. It was a great opportunity to network and speak with many of the top faculty within the transportation program at UT, with former students and faculty, as well as researchers from all over. I learned that there is great value in attending and making an effort to meet people at informal events such as these. The benefits could range from simply collaborating on work in a similar field of interest to meeting someone who can be instrumental in helping find a job upon graduation. One piece of advice I would give to future attendees is to make sure to put effort into spending time with people and talking to them at the conference, as the benefits can be immense.
During the course of the week, I went to many different lecterns and poster sessions on topics of interest to me and my research. In particular, I went to many sessions on public transit (a personal interest of mine) and many others on traffic flow theory and network modeling. Although not all of the sessions I attended were relevant to my work, there was value in understanding what trends there are in each specific field of transportation and what questions are most pressing in this time. The experience helps stretch your perspective of the field and understand how to view your own research problems in a different framework than the one you are currently working in. In addition, the conference exposes you to diverse fields of transportation that may not be explored at UT or not have staff with experience in the subject. The lectern sessions were more of an informal event in large settings where one can absorb information, whereas poster sessions were more interactive with the individual researchers. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any meetings of committees, but I would recommend it, since you can sit in the background and observe experts discuss very specific topics and decide for yourself if it is something you aspire to be a leader in as well.
By attending the TRB conference, I feel that I have gained a better perspective of transportation engineering and the problems that plague our field and society as a whole. It is a valuable opportunity that I will look back on and appreciate, both for the information I gathered and the relationships I hope to continue to develop.