EAG Ambassadors at the AGU2017 Fall Meeting – Part 2

Jan 22, 2018 No Comments by 1078 views

Last December, six EAG Early Career Science Ambassadors travelled to New Orleans to attend the 2017 AGU Annual Fall Meeting. In the first of our two-part blog, Laia Comas Bru, Deirdre Clark, Jihua Hao and Tsvetomila Mateeva described their experiences at AGU2017 from a professional perspective.

In Part 2, Elena Maters talks about some of the social and networking activities that were on offer, Tsvetomila Mateeva gives us some insights into the city’s many sightseeing opportunities, and Jon Hawkings has some tips for first-time AGU attendees.

What opportunities did you get for socialising and networking at AGU?

Floats in the Mardi Gras World. Photo by Tsvetomila

Elena: When flight delays due to snow storms unfortunately caused me to miss my first day of several key sessions, I was determined to make the most of the rest of the week’s events. Luckily, the AGU Fall Meeting is about much more than posters and talks – it is also an invaluable opportunity for networking and socialising! I got in touch with a few scientists whose presentations I had sadly missed, and soon found myself chatting with new contacts about common research interests. I also had the chance to meet and discuss upcoming projects with a few collaborators from other universities who were in town for the conference.

The highlight was the evening Mardi Gras Reception, which I attended as a member of the Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology Focus Group, and which ended up being a great way to mingle with scientists across disciplines. This networking event uniquely captured the New Orleans flare with Louisiana Creole cuisine, a live band and even a witty science rapper, all in the extravagantly decorated and colourful backdrop of Mardi Gras World. Overall, although my attendance to the AGU Fall Meeting got off to a late start, the perfect mixture of science, networking and socialising means I will undoubtedly keep coming back as I continue to develop my research career.

Tell us a bit more about the city of New Orleans? Did you get the chance to do some sightseeing?

Spanish-style architecture in the French quarter. Photo by Tsvetomila.

Tsvetomila: New Orleans is a city with a rich culture and unique spirit. With the city center situated in the French quarter, you could be sure to come across someone you met at the conference the same day. There are no skyscrapers like there are in San Francisco (the venue for previous AGU conferences), and the atmosphere is cosy, like a small European city with a melange of many different cultures and vibes all at the same time. People with a wide range of different tastes and interests can easily find their place. A famous trait of the city is of course its music, and a friend of mine, a big music fanatic, found the pubs with live music and musical shops dedicated to local music (e.g. Louisiana Music Factory) to be most refreshing. Another friend is a fan of stationary and crafts (particularly of washi tape) and was most delighted by the Michaels Store. The variety of craft supplies they have here is really captivating for any art enthusiast! For my part, I really appreciated the architecture of New Orleans:  the metallic terraces in the Spanish-style brick or wooden houses, the big white houses with columns (American style or Greek revival style), a French colonial style wooden house – the only one in the French quarter and now a free museum (Madame John’s Legacy) – the gas lamps, the exterior stairs on the tall brick houses and the creole cottages.

In the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Photo by Tsvetomila

I highly recommend the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which gave certainly the best guided tour of my trip, filled with science, facts, and creepy, gruesome but true stories. It was also the most instructive of the tours I went on in New Orleans, and I learned about the history of the city through its medical history and the health habits and beliefs of New Orleans people, as well as discovering the origins of the creation of soda and old pharmaceutical practices. I highly recommend it!

The AGU website was really worth checking out for useful tips, such as restaurants with Cajun food, beignets, American burgers or fancy cocktails near the convention center. In the centers, there were two desks full of brochures publicising the different things to do in New Orleans and offering trips, events and outings.  The convention center was not far from the must-see tourist attractions, so you could eat a beignet in Café de monde during your lunch break and walk through the historic French quarter in the evening where there were small shops that were still open and bars that never close. In the evening you could also take a spooky guided ghost or voodoo tour, ensuring you will never look at the houses and streets of New Orleans in the same way again!

Did you attend any of the field trips on offer at AGU2017?

Tsvetomila: I undertook a bus trip around the city of New Orleans and learnt about the consequences of hurricane Katrina and what happened during its passage in the city in 2005. Our guide, Robert Thomas, was a professor from Loyola University in New Orleans. He provided us with all the information we needed to understand the sequence of events that led to the flooding of the city and its surrounding areas.

New Orleans new canal pump stations. Photo by Tsvetomila.

The most touching of course were the personal stories of the people who found the courage and motivation to make something good from the disaster, the people who returned to their damaged or completely destroyed homes and started all over again, or others who started over in a new state with work proposed by the government plan.  This disaster changed the demography of the New Orleans people who had to leave their homes, however, as a big city that always changes, young people have come in during the last 1-2 years and the population has reached the same number as it was before the hurricane.  A woman who had lost her house and belongings, including a box full of family recipes that had been kept for generations, was one of the most heartbreaking stories. Speaking with other victims of this disaster she understands she was not the only person in this situation. The things that are the most valuable are not necessarily the most expensive, but those you are emotionally attached to. She collected family recipes from the New Orleans people and wanted to make a book for the one-year anniversary of the disaster. As no publisher wanted to take it on in such a short period of time, only 6 months, she decided to do it alone. Today, this is one of the most selling cooking books in New Orleans.

It was not only the people that were affected by this disaster but also the natural environment – 1000 trees were lost in the City park, bird migration was disrupted and pets who were abandoned in the houses died or become strays. New Orleans is an important economic harbour and the hurricane had a huge economic impact, which was another reason why the government rebuilt and modernised the infrastructure and equipment as well as made changes to local law and procedures to be better prepared for such event.

Our guide explained to us how the new infrastructure has been introduced, and we visited the new canal pump station to see these changes and why the tragedy that happened in 2005 could not be repeated.  However, there is a saying that our guide told us, “It’s good when it’s good until it’s bad”, so we need to do everything in our power to prevent a disaster like this happening again.

In amongst the action. Photo by Laia.

Finally, what tips would you offer to anyone thinking of attending an AGU Fall Meeting in the future?

Jon: AGU can always be a little intimidating for those attending for the first time (especially if it’s your introduction to “big” international conference). Here are my three top tips to get you on your way:

  • Preparation is key! You can’t just turn up to AGU without some idea of what you want to see and who you want to speak to. This is my third time attending, and the way you interact with the meeting has evolved. Spend an hour or two on your flight over looking through the AGU conference app (which is MUCH better now), and organising your conference diary. There are daily newspapers at the conference venue, which are nice to skim through (with a coffee and pen) looking for talks and posters.
  • You can’t see everything so don’t try. You don’t really get a grasp of now big AGU is until you step into the poster hall. There are nearly 25,000 scientists and more than 20,000 presentations from more than 20 sections (from Biogeochemistry to Tectonophysics)! Accept you’ll miss some things and don’t stress about it. If you miss someone you really wanted to see (because you were networking at lunch, had an oral session in a room 10-minutes away or simply picked up on it too late) be proactive and email them. People are always happy to meet.
  • Look after yourself. Wear comfy shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking (I was averaging around 15,000 steps a day according to my phone), bring a rain coat because the heavens will open at some point (I’ve been caught out several times), pack a couple of jumpers (even in New Orleans it got cold), and eat well because you’ll need the energy to survive the week (this means not skipping breakfast or lunch)! Take some time to relax and enjoy the host city too.


A big thank you to all of the EAG Ambassadors who attended AGU2017!

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 2:

Elena Maters: Elena is a Canadian-British geoscientist whose research interests focus on volcanic ash as a chemical agent in the Earth System and specifically, on identifying processes and properties that govern ash reactivity in the atmospheric and oceanic environments. She completed her PhD in 2016 at the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium), recently finished her first postdoc at the Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale (France), and is starting a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship this January at the University of Leeds (UK) investigating the ice nucleating efficiency of volcanic ash. Follow Elena on Twitter @elena_maters

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


Jon Hawkings : Jon is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, School of Geographical Sciences (Bristol Glaciology Centre). He is a biogeochemist studying ice sheet and glacier impact on downstream biogeochemical cycles. He is currently investigating elemental cycling in glaciated environments, and the flux and bioavailability of glacially derived nutrients, using a range of geochemical techniques, from aqueous geochemistry to mineralogy. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonnyhawkings



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