I rarely get out among other teachers in the same field as I am, with similar interest and motivations, and even less often do I have time to be in the company of professional scientists to see and hear what they are doing, how it is being done, what technologies are being used, etc. Without this type of program to get me to a meeting like the AAS I would never be able to put all of this together.
This experience has made me conscious of how important it is to have students work with real data. I will definitely seek out more opportunities to include real data in my lessons and labs.
Science is hard! ;-) Also, it is worth the work!