Just what is AbGradCon?

AbGradCon (Astrobiology Graduate Conference) provides a unique setting for astrobiologically-inclined graduate students and early career researchers to come together to share their research, collaborate, and network. AbGradCon 2015 marks the 11th year of this conference--each time in a different place and organized by a different group of students, but always with the original charter as a guide.

These meetings have been wildly successful both when connected to AbSciCon, and as stand-alone conferences. Since it is organized and attended by only graduate students and post docs, AbGradCon is an ideal venue for the next generation of career astrobiologists to form bonds, share ideas, and discuss the issues that will shape the future of the field. Take a look at the AbGradCon 2014 conference website to see what's happened in the past.



Where is AbGradCon 2015 being held?

AbGradCon 2015 is being held on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and hosted by the UW-Madison Geology Department and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in the Discovery Building.

When is AbGradCon 2015?

The Technical Program for AbGradCon 2015 runs from July 20 - 22. Participants should plan to arrive by Sunday afternoon, July 19th, if they wish to attend the welcome reception and dinner. Departures are planned for July 23rd.

What accommodations are available?

Stay tuned for more details. Accommodations will be within walking distance of the campus.

How do I get to the conference?

Most participants will find it convenient to fly in Dane County Regional Airport (MSN), which is located ~15 minutes from the UW campus. MSN is serviced by US/American, Delta, United, Frontier Airlines, and their partners.

Additionally, several companies offer bus service from the Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) to Madison. Transit time by bus is typically ~2 hours. MKE is served by Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, US/American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United.

Finally, several companies offer bus service from Chicago, for those that may wish to fly into Chicago O'Hare (ORD). Transit time is typically ~3 hours, and costs ~$25.

By car, UW is accessible via Interstates 90 and 94.

What about local transportation to/from the airport, train station, field trip?

More information on ground transportation will be come available closer to the conference as our funding situation is finalized. It is possible participants will need to provide for their own ground transportation. In any case, we will provide details outlining various options for taking both public transit to/from main travel hubs. Those with special circumstances are encouraged to contact a member of the local organizing committee for more information.

What is the weather like in Madison in July?

The Madison area has a relatively temperate climate, with average temperatures around 75 - 85 °F (24 - 29 °C) in late July. Historically, the chances of precipitation on any given day is ~44%, so if practical, we recommend carrying a small umbrella, just in case. The lecture hall and other indoor locations are likely to be well air-conditioned, so we also recommend a light sweater or jacket, just in case.

Y'all have lakes, right?

Yup, and it's the right season for swimming. There are a few local places reserved for casual swimmers, so if that's your thing, we recommend bringing a suit so as to not miss out!


Who can apply?

In general, AbGradCon is intended for Master's or PhD students, as well as postdocs or early-career researchers within ~2 years of their graduation. Senior undergraduates who will be beginning a graduate program in Fall 2015 are considered as 1st year graduate students for the purposes of this conference (and congrats on your grad school acceptances!).

What about undergraduates?

Senior undergraduates with research experience under their belts have been known to attend from time to time. Priority both for funding and presentation slots will be given to graduate students and early-career researchers, however, and any funding will almost certainly be limited to a registration waiver. Interested undergraduates would be well-served by contacting the Organizing Committee ahead of time.

When are applications due?

Applications are due by 17:00 (5:00 p.m.) in the submitter's local time zone on Tuesday, March 10th.

I missed the deadline, but would still like to apply. Can I?

Unlike previous years, applications submitted after the deadline are highly unlikely to be reviewed.

But I was waiting until the last minute to get the results I needed for a good abstract!

AbGradCon is not AAS/ACS/AGU/Quals/Candidacy/Your Thesis Defense - it's OK to submit an abstract based on a project you are working on, but has not yet yielded all of the results you might want for a peer-reviewed publication. Abstracts are reviewed on the basis of their scientific merit; Nature-worthy results are not required! It's perfectly acceptable to give a presentation that details the problem you're working on, the approach you're taking, and what you hope to get out of it, with only very preliminary findings. Don't let waiting for results be the reason you miss the deadline!.

Is there a word limit for abstracts?

Yes - 300 words.

Who is my target audience for my submitted title and abstract?

AbGradCon welcomes any presentation broadly related to the field of astrobiology. As such, the expertise of conference attendees, and the organizing committee, varies widely (e.g., at AbGradCon '13, a statistician presented a talk on the growth of astrobiology as a field - very meta). Your submission should be aimed at an expert scientific audience with general interest in the topic of astrobiology.

Submissions will be evaluated by members of the organizing committee who are experts in the fields indicated in the application, but not necessarily in the specific sub-field being presented. Successful submissions will therefore be crafted as if explaining the topic to a fellow graduate student or postdoc within your department, that has a general interest in astrobiology, but perhaps not expertise in your exact area.

I'm an adventurous, no-nonsense archaeologist and historian studying how advances in human knowledge of the stars affected origin of life mythologies. I'd like to submit a talk about the impact of the Kepler mission on neo-religious viewpoints, and constrast that to similar periods as revealed by ancient pottery carvings. Do you have an expert for that?

OK, so the organizing committee, while diverse, does not cover every area of potential interest to astrobiology. In cases such as this, we will seek an outside referee to offer an informed opinion on the submitted research. This will then be used to guide the committee's final decision. The truth is out there, Scully.

By what criteria will my application be judged?

The committee will consider a number of factors when determining who to accept. These include, but are not limited to: scientific merit and appeal, novelty, and applicability to astrobiology of the submitted abstract. Other factors will include clarity of the abstract itself (i.e. grammar and readability), as well as an applicant's ability to provide partial or full travel support.

Can I submit more than one abstract?

Sure, but please submit your abstracts in order of priority. We cannot guarantee that we will have space available for more than one presentation per person (or even that many). If you request two talks, your second abstract may be assigned to a poster session instead, if space is a limiting factor.


Where does AbGradCon get its funding?

The bulk of the funding for AbGradCon comes from a grant from NASA Astrobiology Institute.

How many participants can you fund?

We expect to be able to fund ~70 participants from the United States, although this number is subject to change (in either direction) as our funding situation evolves.

Is funding available for international participants?

We anticipate being able to provide a small number of international participants with partial funding, likely covering local conference costs for registration, housing, and food. Due to funding restrictions, however, we cannot make any guarantees at this time. International applicants are encouraged to submit an abstract regardless, and to indicate their required level of support.

What will be covered by the conference?

Food, lodging, and a fixed travel allowance will be provided to all participants who are offered funding. The travel allowance should be sufficient to cover a significant portion of the cost for most US participants to travel to AbGradCon. The exact amount will be detailed in notification e-mails.

What meals are provided as part of the conference?

Check back soon, but in general all meals during the Science Program, as well as the opening reception and closing banquet, are provided.

I need to arrive early/stay late because of my flights. Are accommodations provided in that case?

No. Unfortunately, our funding only provides for accommodating participants for the duration of the Science Program. Extra nights will be the responsibility of the attendee.

OK, can I still stay in my same room?

We cannot guarantee room availability outside the conference nights. However, provided sufficient notice, it is possible you will be able to keep your same room.


Can I request only to present a poster, rather than give a talk?

We suppose. We strongly encourage all participants to apply to give oral presentations, as one of the best features of AbGradCon is an incredibly low-pressure environment in which to practice oral presentation skills. Remember, there aren't any crotchety professors in the audience to ask obnoxious questions - we're all just here to learn about the cool research going on in astrobiology!

Ok, fine, I applied to give a talk, but you assigned me a poster anyways! What gives?

Because we reserve large chunks of time for fun, non-talks activities and collaboration discussions, we won't be able to assign all participants to a talk. That doesn't mean that you should hamstring yourself by applying for a poster only to begin with, nor does it mean that we thought your abstract was not as good as others. We strive to maintain a balance between the different subject areas being presented, and some will inevitably be over- or under-subscribed. Poster sessions allow us to adjust for these issues.

I'm presenting a poster - what dimensions should I plan for?

Space will be provided for a standard 3' x 4' landscape poster. Those wishing to present posters in other formats or sizes (e.g. portrait) should ensure the total width of the poster does not exceed 4'.

I'm giving a talk - can I use my own computer?

No. To ensure a smooth presentation process, as well as compatibility with the webcasting, presentations will only be possible using an AbGradCon computer.

I'm giving a talk - what format is acceptable?

Presentations should be saved in modern Microsoft PowerPoint Format (.pptx). Presentations prepared in Keynote, or in PowerPoint for Mac, should be compatible with the presentation computer if saved in this format. You are strongly encouraged to also save your presentation as a PDF, and to bring copies of both the .pptx and .pdf file on a flash drive the day of your presentation.

I'm giving a talk - how long should the talk be?

The amount of time allocated for each talk will not be finalized until a full list of participants is in hand. However, previous years have used a 12 minute talk followed by 3 minutes of questions format which has proven quite successful. In any case, the talk will not be longer than 15 minutes.


As part of our mission to expand awareness of the field, as well as to allow participation in the conference to those who are unable to attend physically, the majority of the oral presentations will be live-streamed via the S.A.G.A.N. web platform. We will also take questions on presentations, in real time, via S.A.G.A.N. chat rooms. Additionally, presentations will be archived for later viewing.

I'm shy and/or my presentation will contain proprietary content I do not wish to see released to the general public or archived at this time.

While it is highly encouraged, we do not require that all presenters consent to a broadcast of their talk. Presentations can be made offline if desired.