Lauren James – email@example.com
AGU Fall Meeting 2022 was held in Chicago, Illinois from 12th – 16th December, and I was fortunate to attend the conference in person to present a poster on my PhD research. At the post-pandemic event, 18,000 attendees were expected to be present throughout the week and more attended online. To date, this was going to be the largest audience to view my research.
No matter how many people tell you how huge the AGU meeting is, it is not until you walk into the venue you understand the extent of this conference. Rows upon rows of poster boards, a sizeable exhibition hall, an AGU centre and relaxation zone, and endless hallways to the seminar rooms. I went by the venue on Sunday afternoon to register and work out the main routes to and around the conference centre. I would recommend this to anyone attending as come Monday morning the registration queue was extraordinarily long, looping across bridges and down staircases. You would have missed any early morning talks you wanted to attend.
Tuesday morning was my allocated time to showcase my work. The poster sessions were 3.5 hours long, but the posters could be kept up on the board for the full day. Whilst there was no requirement to stand next to your poster for the full duration, I did just that as time flew by very quickly. Fellow scientists were eager to discuss the work, learn about new ideas, and find overlaps with their work. I brought along A4 printed versions of the poster (an idea I had picked up from another conference) and it was beneficial to either let attendees take away your work for reference or for allowing people at the back of a crowd to read the poster. For the online attendees, presenters could make an interactive poster (a.k.a iPosters) which was published on the online gallery. This platform allowed videos, gifs, and audio clips as well as no-limit to text in expandable text boxes. Whilst still being mindful of not overcrowding a poster, these additional features made the poster more accessible. For some fortunate presenters, digital poster rows at the conference allowed their iPosters to be viewable in person too. Thus, presenters could use the movies and audio to support their work as well as attendees could easily interact with their displays whilst unmanned. Further, there was no organisation for printing and travelling with a poster and produced no waste. Could this be the future of poster sessions?
There were so many oral presentations throughout the week that are suitable for your field of research. With the help of the AGU app, I was able to make a schedule for the space physics sessions I wanted to attend and optimise my time at the conference by finding other sessions I would find interesting. This year, for the first time, there was a session on ‘Raising Awareness on Mental Health in the Earth and Space Sciences’. In the last few years, such sessions have become more widely available and I am happy to see that AGU has also taken the opportunity to discuss the importance of healthy work. Of the oral presentation sessions I attended, this one instigated a very engaged audience and highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary discussions. All the oral presentation sessions catered for in-person and online audiences, and have continued to allow online speakers to present and participate in the Q&A. These sessions are also still available to re-watch for all the attendees for a few weeks.
A walk amongst the exhibition hall filled some of the free time between sessions and allowed attendees to discuss careers with academic institutes and businesses working with instrumentation, programming, data accessibility, fieldwork and more. As a postgraduate student in space physics, it was initially overwhelming to see many stands that were advertising topics alien to me. But before you knew it, I had heard about a new state-of-the-art instrument that will rapidly transmit terabytes of data; learnt about ground aquifers by making an Oreo Ice Cream float; and collected a renowned NASA 2023 calendar.
From my understanding, there have been a few changes to the AGU meeting since pre-pandemic times. The colours of your lanyard corresponded to your comfort level of COVID-19 safety, spanning from ‘I need distance’ to ‘Air high fives approved’. Alcoholic refreshments during poster sessions were not provided as a conscious decision to improve attendee well-being and ensure the code of conduct is upheld. And the host city of the meeting will change annually within the US to improve the accessibility of the conference (although for a UK attendee, a long-haul flight is unavoidable regardless of this).
Figure 3: A few memories from my visit to Chicago, including the Oreo ice cream float, the cloud gate (a.k.a., The Bean), and the NHL Ice Hockey game at the Union Center.
Chicago was a lovely city to host this year. The conference centre was easily accessible by train and bus from the downtown area, and even walkable on a good weather day. We were fortunate to have rather pleasant weather throughout the visit, although some rain, snow, and a bitterly cold wind were experienced. Exploring the city was extra special this close to Christmas and aided the glory of city lights after sunset. In the evenings, there was ample time and things to do with early career scientists I’ve met throughout my time as a PhD student and newly made contacts from the US. Watching an NHL ice hockey match, visiting Navy Pier, a competitive evening at the bowling alley, and trying the famous deep dish pizza were just some of the things squeezed into the busy week.
There is no doubt that attending the AGU Fall Meeting has been a highlight in my PhD experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to visit in the future. Even if you’re travelling alone, which I did, there were ample opportunities to meet fellow attendees and experience a very enjoyable week in the city. I thank the University of Reading Graduate School for giving me a student travel bursary to help fund this international trip. Next year, this conference is being held in San Francisco, California from the 11th – 15th of December 2023.