AGU Student Travel Grants: Connecting Students with Opportunity

Pilar Madrigal, a two-time recipient of an AGU Student Travel Grant, left her home country of Costa Rica in 2012 to pursue a doctoral degree at Virginia Tech. “Although, at first it was difficult for me to grasp the nuance of what becoming a Ph.D. student entailed, I quickly fell in love with so much more than just my research on the composition and origin of melts in the Earth’s mantleAGU’s student travel grant program, which supports students and early-career professionals of all backgrounds, opened many doors of opportunity for me. 

Read Pilar’s full story below. 

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“I realized this would be an uphill climb”

By Pilar Madrigal 

I joined the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 2012 when I left my home country of Costa Rica to pursue a doctoral degree at Virginia Tech. Although, at first, it was difficult for me to grasp the nuance of what becoming a Ph.D. student entailed, I quickly fell in love with so much more than just my research on the composition and origin of melts in the Earth’s mantle. It became clear to me that academia was more than a system – it was a culture. As a minority student from a different country, I realized that this would be an uphill climb but I was up for the challenge.

Pilar Madrigal at the Guagua Pichincha Volcano in Ecuador during the CCVG-IAVCEI 13th Gas Workshop in 2017. Photo courtesy of Pilar Madrigal.

Much of my success as a graduate student was possible because I was connected with the right advisor and mentors and had the support of family and friends. Yet, I would like to acknowledge a different kind of support. AGU’s Student Travel Grant program, which supports students and early-career professionals of all backgrounds, opened many doors of opportunity for me. As a grant recipient in 2015 and in 2017, the program has had an incredibly positive impact on my career development. It allowed me to participate in meetings and workshops that I otherwise would not have been able to attend. I found both travel grant experiences were crucial to acquiring skills and knowledge that are not available through academic classes or research.

Your support matters. Your support changes lives. 

Networking skills are not often taught during a doctorate program but, I have found that, it is one of the most important skill-sets during the transition from graduate school to a professional career. Science communication, which goes hand-in-hand with networking, is another important skill that can only be improved by constant practice and by engaging with peers in settings that promote science advancement like the AGU Fall Meeting.

In 2015 I was granted an Annual Student Travel Grant to attend the AGU Fall Meeting. As a first time attendee it was undoubtedly an overwhelming experience. Nonetheless, I discovered a vast community of researchers that share the same passion for geosciences. What struck me the most was how I found myself surrounded by peers, some with similar backgrounds and many struggling with the same difficulties and issues as I was. It was empowering to realize that I wasn’t alone and that I was represented by peers that came before me. This helped to radically change my point of view. If it wasn’t for the Student Travel Grant program I wouldn’t have realized how much representation matters. Thanks to this experience, I became motivated to further improve my communication skills in order to help advance one of the groups that might need increased representation the most: young Latina women in Geosciences.

More recently, I was awarded a Bruno Martinelli Travel Fellowship. This award is granted on a yearly basis to Latin Americans interested in attending volcanology related workshops. Many active volcanoes are located in Latin American territories and there is an increasing need for local volcanology professionals that can undertake monitoring and research of ongoing volcanic processes. The Martinelli Fellowship allowed me to attend the 13th Gas Workshop of the CCVG-IAVCEI that took place in Ecuador during September-October 2017. During the workshop I was fortunate to meet top experts in volcanic gas geochemistry, as well as, early-career researchers just like myself, by participating one-on-one in discussions and field campaigns. It also made it possible to fulfill one of my life-long dreams of visiting the Galapagos Islands hotspot.

As an early-career professor and researcher I value the perspective and opportunities provided to me by the Student Travel Grant program. These opportunities of intensive learning have positively impacted my career development not only academically but also in the improvement of essential social and communications skills. They rendered me adaptable to the academic culture that I am now a part of and that I strive to make more welcoming to other underrepresented minorities, such as myself.

I thank all the donors who support the Student Travel Grant program. Your support matters. Your support changes lives.


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