EAG Ambassadors at the AGU2017 Fall Meeting – Part 1

Jan 22, 2018 No Comments by 1199 views

The EAG Ambassador team at AGU2017:
(L-R) Tsvetomila Mateeva, Jon Hawkings, Elena Maters, Laia Comas Bru, Jihua Hao, Deirdre Clark.

Last December, six EAG Early Career Science Ambassadors travelled to New Orleans to attend the 2017 edition of the Annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

In the first of this two-part blog, Laia Comas Bru, Deirdre Clark, Jihua Hao and Tsvetomila Mateeva talk to us about what it was like attending and presenting at the world’s largest geosciences meeting, as well as some of the careers workshops on offer.


In previous years, AGU was held in San Francisco. What did you make of this year’s venue and the conference as a whole?

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, by day and by night. Photos by Elena.

Laia: Due to extensive construction at the San Francisco’s Moscone convention center, the world’s largest conference in the geophysical sciences moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, for the first time in its almost 50 years of history. For a week, the vibrant culturally and historically-rich city of New Orleans was taken over by more than 24,000 attendees from 113 different nationalities who could be found everywhere in the city, from the surroundings of the convention centre to pubs and restaurants in the famous French Quarter or listening to live jazz musicians in the Frenchman street.

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was a fantastic venue for such a large meeting – however, comfy shoes were definitely needed to make most of your time at the conference, as going from the rooms where some talks were given to the exhibitor’s hall could take almost 10 minutes!

What makes the AGU Fall Meeting a must-see event is not just the opportunity to attend scientific sessions on new and interesting science on a wide range of topics but the number of activities (scientific or just for fun) organised by AGU, such as this year’s AGU 5k Fun Run/Walk or the Mardi Gras style reception for the section and focus group meetings. One of the things that I liked seeing was the availability of “discussion pods” with circular tables spread all over the venue to have group meetings. I used a couple of them several times and I can say that they were great to network outside of the scientific sessions!


Plenty on offer at AGU2017. Photo by Elena.

Why did you decide to attend AGU?

Deirdre: Having never attended a conference outside of Europe in addition to living in Europe for the past six years, I became interested in AGU’s annual meeting. Since there has been limited occasion to expand a network outside of Europe, let alone my home countries of Canada and the United States, I believe this to be an important way to explore potential career prospects in geochemistry, whether it be academic or industrial. Besides, presenting one’s research in a large community of scientists in another region and/or continent from one’s base is essential to help advance and communicate scientific work.


What was it like giving a presentation at AGU?

Deirdre: I gave an oral presentation on the Thursday morning, which gave me plenty of time to enjoy various oral and poster sessions of the conference and be able to finish any last minute preparations on my own presentation. Before giving any oral presentation, it is always a good idea to scope out the room ahead of time. This way you have an idea of the room size, where the projector is and what is available to you on the podium. At AGU the projector screen was very large, so I had wanted to make sure my figures and pictures were in the highest resolution. Also, in this room the podium and the screen were in opposite corners, therefore it was good to use a laser pointer or the computer mouse in order to highlight certain aspects of each slide. My last tips for future presenters would be to ask a friend to listen to your presentation in order to give constructive comments afterwards, as well as to write down the questions the audience asks afterwards.

Jihua: I presented a poster entitled “Compatibility of amino acids in ice Ih and high-pressure phases: implications for the origin of life” in the AGU this year. As our experimental results may have some promising implications for mantle of icy moons and large ocean planets, I invited several colleagues working in this field to stop by if they were interested. With professionals like these, I didn’t need to provide much background information, which gave me some time to excite them with results followed by long discussions. They provided many valuable suggestions and insightful comments on the experimental design, future possibilities, and potential implications during the presentation. For example, Professor Fabien Kenig from University of Illinois at Chicago was very excited to see that incorporation of the simple amino acids would favor crystallization of ice VI and VII. He suggested that I explore the amino acids with D-chirality to see effects of chirality.

Other colleagues didn’t have as much background knowledge about the topic I presented, so I guided them from the introduction through to the conclusion in much detail. Although their expertise is different to mine, I still got amazing suggestions for some interdisciplinary possibilities. For example, Professor Xiaobin Cao from Louisiana State University, who is working on oxygen isotopes, pointed out that isotopic signatures could be applied to make sure our system is in equilibrium. The experience of presenting at a huge conference like AGU was really enjoyable because I could not only get insightful comments from experts but could also publicize my research to colleagues in other fields and find interdisciplinary possibilities.

In amongst the action. Photo by Laia.

Did you attend any of the workshops on offer?

Tsvetomila: The workshops at AGU were divided into rooms, each with its own specificity – careers, communication, teaching, politic and ethics. It is worth noting that the workshops were not included in the AGU paper program and were not always all represented in the conference app either. As a PhD student due to finish soon, I was most interested in the career workshops, and I was right in thinking that these would be extremely useful in terms of providing tools and tips to help you find your career path. The workshops were usually attended by 20-30 people and there was always time for questions. Some of the paths and academic advice were very specific for America and not necessarily applicable to Europe but they did provide valuable insights for anyone local or planning a career in the US. I learned that in America there are more than one type of college/university e.g. doctoral institutions, baccalaureate colleges and community colleges, and depending on which one you’re in, the focus could be centred on research or teaching, with more or less administrative responsibility. It was still interesting to know where people with similar degrees as mine tend to go and what the possible academic paths in USA are.

I particularly enjoyed a workshop that helped match you with your best careers options according to what you consider most important to you in your professional life. Aspects such as autonomy, advancement, challenge, security or even money will lead to different kinds of career path suggestions, helping you to find your best role (research, management, project leader). We were given advice on how to emphasise our personal effectiveness and interpersonal skills such as adaptability, communication, persistence or ethical practice as well as our technical skills.

Another workshop was run by early career scientists who had already graduated and had academic jobs. They shared their academic experiences after graduation, and infused motivation and an optimistic outlook. However, the testimonies were all from American scientists and my hope to hear from someone from the rest of the world was not fulfilled. There was so much happening everyday though, so when you were at one thing you were missing other presentations or events that you would also like to attend.


Read Part 2 of the blog to find out about the social activities on offer at AGU2017, some of the highlights of New Orleans’ sightseeing opportunities that the EAG Ambassadors enjoyed, and don’t miss Jon’s tips for first-time AGU attendees!

Visit the EAG website to find out more about the EAG Early Career Science Ambassador program, as well as other EAG sponsorship opportunities.  Next application deadline: 1 March 2018


About the authors of Part 1:

Laia Comas Bru: Laia is a lecturer in Low Temperature Geochemistry at the University College Dublin School of Earth Sciences. She is the lead coordinator of the SISAL working group, aimed at creating a global database of speleothem isotope data to be used in model evaluation and to explore past changes in mean regional climate and climate variability on annual to millennial timescales. She is also working on how different persistence patterns of the North Atlantic Oscillation and the East Atlantic pattern affect the relationship between the oxygen isotopic composition of precipitation and climate over Europe.

Deirdre Clark: Deirdre is a Canadian-American PhD Student at the University of Iceland researching carbon storage in basalts.Her research involves a high pressure laboratory experiment, analytical work on liquids and solids, geochemical modelling (PHREEQC), and sampling of CO2-H2S rich fluids at an injection site at a geothermal thermal power plant. Follow Deirdre on Twitter @clarkdeirdre


Jihua Hao: Jihua has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Geology, University of Lyon 1 since December 2016.  He defines himself as a theoretical and experimental geochemist. His research interests include early Earth and planetary surface environments (atmosphere, redox, aqueous geochemistry, and mineralogy etc.), origin of life in water-rich planetary bodies (Earth, early Mars, ocean planets and icy moons), aqueous geochemistry at elevated temperatures and pressures up to upper mantle conditions.

Tsvetomila Mateeva: Tsvetomila is a PhD student in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences of the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. She has been an EAG member since 2014 and is an EAG ambassador. Her research is on the relationship between serpentinization, carbon cycle and microbial life. Follow Tsvetomila on Twitter @milamateeva

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