I ended up going anyway, for various reasons: it would be good to present some research in a month that's otherwise filled with travel/life things, my father would be receiving a (small) career award there and I thought it would be nice to come as well, the usual fun of hanging out with old grad school friends, and so on.
So after a pleasant New Year's weekend back in Albuquerque (at Sabot's New Year's party, followed by a day of skiing up at Santa Fe) I took the short flight over to Dallas for the conference.
It was an alright conference. There were some good talks, and one really major groundbreaking scientific result announced (a true localization of a fast radio burst and its host galaxy, showing what appears to be definitively that they are insanely bright and far away). I presented a poster on some of my long-running GRB host galaxy research and didn't get much traffic; unfortunately it does appear that that field is in terminal decline in the US (although not in Europe) and the people who are involved in it don't seem to come to AAS. Oh well! Fortunately I'm involved in lots of other stuff too these days.
This year also showed the impact of a phase transition of sorts that is going on with my age group: the ranks of graduate school colleagues from my Berkeley days that are still active in astronomy has suddenly plummeted in the past year or so as people in my approximate age-cohort start to encounter the frustrations of the faculty job market and move elsewhere: there were only three relatively close friends of mine at the conference from that "era". I guess live moves on. (And on the plus side, one of them decided to have a huge room party in his room on Wednesday night, stocked with 4 handles of hard liquor and games of beer pong played on an unscrewed wall HVAC panel.)
I did also have an encounter that was... either encouraging or extremely frustrating, I'm not sure which. A University of Arizona professor spotted me in the hallway and inquired about my career status, pointing out that there were three faculty job openings there this year and that "if I was still working in the same area and similarly productive" as a few years ago I'd be a very attractive candidate. Of course I am still working in that area and also many others, and was on a productivity tear in 2016... but instead, I got to tell him that I was just starting a new position and not really applying for jobs this year. Errgh. Anyway who knows how to interpret such "informal" nonverbal conversation: still, that's the kind of information that would have been useful six months ago.
Watching the job market this year has been kind of "interesting" in general: while there are fewer top-level academic jobs being advertised, there have been several posted in my (broad) research area, and some others who work in my field are being shortlisted - as opposed to the last two years when I was essentially the only postdoc working in supernovae/GRBs/transients actually making it to that level. I wonder if the community has belatedly woken up to this actually being an interesting area and if I would had an entirely different experience had I stayed on the market another year? Certainly publication-wise I am way ahead of this year's "competition".
Oh well. No time for second-guessing now: the first components of the move to Liverpool starts in barely over a week.