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Meeting Minerva

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Written by: Melissa J. Miller-Felton

Last week, the Storymodelers headed just outside of Washington, D.C to the Minerva Research Initiative Annual Program Meeting. For the junior researchers in the lab, one thought came to mind: “We’re meeting the purse.” Minerva Research Initiative is sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD) to fund social science research with a focus on advancing security at large.[1] The purpose of this meeting was to come together, in person, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, to share what’s happening in the Minerva research community.

This star-studded, two-day event that included the “Department” of folks, academics, and the institutes. I’m not one to name drop, but I’ll make an exception here. There were representatives from the Department of Defense, State Department, and specific branches of the military program offices. State, private, Ivy League (points pinky up), and military branch war colleges were in attendance. That’s not all! There were international universities there. We’re talking Oxford folks, with titles in tow! Last, but not least, were the institutes, one that comes to mind was the United States Institute of Peace. This was a blazer/durable cardigan event. I think you see where we’re going with this.

We decided to take control of experience, here was our gameplan:

Divide and conquer. This is a technique for group attendance. Our team decided to attend the briefs like people order family-style at a restaurant. We each went to a different panel and shared the information and discussed how it settled on our brain buds (get it, ‘tastebuds’ -- never mind). It is helpful to go into the presentation with similar questions, so we could categorize our takeaways. We also left flexibility to engage our own curiosities. Not only did we get a sample of each panel, but we were also able to break things down without the intimidation factor of being a student in a room full of established scholars.

Rub elbows. This happens in between the sessions was where the handshakes and elbow rubbing went down. If possible, and not distracting, it is a good idea to jot down who you want to approach and what you want to ask. Have a backup in mind because there was some highly sought after side-chat. There are less formals ways to do this without missing out on an opportunity to meet and greet. As casual as it sounds, some of my best connections happened as I struck up small talk with my handwashing neighbor in the ladies’ room, while glancing at their name tag in the mirror. Or, sitting next to someone and start with small talk. I am learning that the best approach is a natural approach.

Be radical, be assertive. The best presentations I saw (and this was corroborated by my lab-mates at other conferences) are the ones where presenters didn’t rely on heavy text, but instead put forward bold ideas. In fact, a program officer at a big funding conference told us, “I want to see things that are bold. I wanted to be wow-ed.” I’ve been conservative about my approach. I’m new to academia, after all. But I’ve been inspired to push some boundaries more.

BONUS! Memorialize the inspiration. Contently coasting on the momentum from the conference would last the weekend, but not much more if we did not channel it immediately. We decided to memorialize our experience in a collective document to make use of the things we learned and also think about ways to use the knowledge to rethink about how we apply it to our current projects.

Don’t forget to explore the surrounding areas of the conference. That’s the bonus of travel. To double down on this nerd euphoria, we went on a field trip to some of the museums in D.C. There was a collective desire to add on inspiration through the beauty of art and the patterns that history provides for predictive work. Scientific work. Social science work. So, we rewarded our brain in exchange for motivation to share our work and experiences.

[1] Minerva Research Initiative. 2023. Retrieved from: Home (

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