The world’s largest geoscience conference: EAG Ambassadors at AGU18

Feb 19, 2019 No Comments by 848 views

The Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is by far the largest conference that a geochemist might attend in their career. The 2018 AGU Fall meeting took place in Washington D.C. in December and EAG Early Career Science ambassadors Emily Dearing Crampton-Flood and Gordon Inglis were among the many thousands of delegates there. We asked them to share some of their experiences at the conference and give some advice for first-time attendees.

Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Emily’s tips for first-time AGU attendees

Busy poster hall at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

As a first-time attendee of the AGU meeting, I was slightly intimidated by the sheer number of people, scientific disciplines, and sessions on offer. I had attended EGU before, but nothing can really prepare you for the unique atmosphere of this conference, which I really enjoyed. Aside from the science itself, being able to orientate yourself around the (massive!) convention center in Washington D.C. and choosing what posters to see are key priorities for any AGU attendee. Although the first two days were a learning curve, I feel that I am adequately prepared to attend future AGU meetings.

Before you attend the conference, there are a few things you can do prepare. For example, you might want to make a list of scientists you want to speak to. Your train or flight to the conference is also an ideal time to download the AGU app and peruse the many sessions, workshops, posters, and social events on offer. However, make some space on your phone because the app can be quite bulky! On the first day, I highly recommend picking up a ‘first time attendee’ badge near the registration area. There are others badges that range from humorous (e.g. ‘I like beer’) to serious and they are excellent ways of breaking the ice with other AGU attendees.

I had an oral presentation on Thursday evening, so I had plenty of time to prepare and get acquainted with the conference venue. However, I would recommend visiting the room you will be speaking in beforehand, so there are no big surprises on the day!

A final checklist of things you want to bring with you to the conference, are:

  • Comfortable shoes! The venue is HUGE and it will take 5 to 10 minutes to get from end to the other.
  • A notebook and pen.
  • A guidebook of the city. It’s important to have a bit of downtime as well, I really enjoyed walking around DC and soaking in the history of the capitol. On another note, taking a morning or afternoon off from the conference might be a wise move if you feel a bit science-saturated.
  • A powerbank in case the AGU app saps all your phone’s battery!
  • Bring your own water bottle so that you can make sure to stay hydrated.

….and if you’re into space (and pretty pictures!) go and pick up a free NASA calendar in the exhibition area. There is usually a rush on the first evening, but I managed to get my hands on one later in the week!


Gordon’s advice for presenting at AGU

Emily giving her presentation.

There are many ways to present your research at AGU, including both oral and poster presentations. For an oral presentation, you are given a 15-minute slot (although there are exceptions). I would recommend that you plan to speak for 12 minutes and leave around 3 minutes for discussion and changeover to the next speaker. Session chairs will hold you to the allotted time and it is important not to overrun! However, there will be a timer on stage and a ‘traffic light’ system to let you know when your time is up.

Unlike other conferences, you will not be able to upload your talk in the lecture hall. Instead, you must upload your presentation in the speaker ready room before your session begins. All you need to do is bring your presentation along on a memory stick. If you have an oral presentation, you should also check the suggested aspect ratio. Most conferences typically request 16:9 aspect ratios (e.g. AGU). Although presentations in 4:3 are also acceptable, they will usually display with black bars to the left and right of your slides.

Sketch your Science: a more unusual way of presenting your research.

If you have a poster presentation, give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with the layout of the (huge!) poster hall and locate your poster board. Your poster will not be displayed for the entire conference. Instead, you will be designated a single day. A successful poster presentation will depend on how well you convey information to an interested audience. Remember to consider not only the content but also your presentation style (e.g. enthusiasm, liveliness, visuals). If you are a student, you can also apply for the Outstanding Student Presentation Award (OSPA). The presentation is judged anonymously by up to three (friendly) judges. However, it must be orally presented by the student. So, make sure to stand beside your poster for at least one hour.

More recently, the AGU have offered new session formats. These include interactive electronic posters called ‘eLightning presentation’. These involve a 3-minute oral presentation followed by two hours of discussion at your ‘electronic poster’. It also means that there is no need to print or transport your poster tube across the Atlantic Ocean!

Whichever way you choose to disseminate your science, they are all hugely beneficial and enjoyable!


Emily’s experiences at AGU’s social and networking events

Emily and Gordon meet up at the EAG Booth.

In terms of networking opportunities, the conference is a gold mine of potential new contacts. As a European, it is a great opportunity to be able to meet up with colleagues and friends working in North America. Although I didn’t present a poster, my friends found that the sessions were extremely useful and intellectually stimulating. One activity which really made a difference was an event organized by Heather Ford for young women in paleoceanography. Although I’m not strictly a paleoceanographer, I signed up for the networking event held on the Tuesday evening at a nearby cocktail bar. Before the event, all the early career researchers were assigned a mentor to help guide them and act as a friendly face throughout the conference. It was nice to see so many young women at the event, and the venue was almost at a capacity due to the high number of registrants! My mentor was Heather Ford, and I enjoyed meeting up with her for a coffee and a chat during a poster session. And if you a bit overwhelmed and shy, your mentor can also introduce you to other people that you may have hesitated approaching!

Stunning gemstone collection at the Smithsonian.

I attended three official events organized by the AGU; the official opening of the exhibition hall (which came complete with canapés and AGU beer), the paleoclimate networking session held at a nearby hotel, and the ‘Night at the Museum’. I was very impressed by the quality and the number of the exhibitors, and it was a good opportunity to make some new contacts in the publishing field. The social event that I most enjoyed was the night at the museum, during which I chose to go to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I was among the first few people allowed inside the museum at 7pm, and we were greeted by an exhilarating show in the main hall. This included African dancing with traditional drum music and singing, all under the auspicious gaze of a life-size elephant model. After the show, I had an excellent time touring the gemstone collection where the famous Hope diamond is kept. I heard from other friends that their experiences at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Air and Space Museum were equally as positive.


About the authors:

Emily Dearing Crampton-Flood is currently finishing her PhD at Utrecht University. Her PhD research focuses on the generation of reliable terrestrial temperature reconstructions of the Pliocene using soil-derived biomarkers in coastal marine sediments. She will be starting her postdoc at the University of Manchester in March 2019, which will focus on establishing a chronology and terrestrial temperature dataset for lignites in the Western Interior Basin of North America over the K-Pg boundary. Follow her twitter for lots of fun fieldwork pictures and research from this exciting new project @ec0237.

Gordon Inglis is an organic geochemist and paleoclimatologist working at the University of Bristol within the Organic Geochemistry Unit. He uses lipid biomarker proxies to reconstruct temperature, hydrology and biogeochemistry throughout the Cenozoic.

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