Conference Report: AGU2015

Best of AGU! From 12 o’clock, clockwise: Coffee break in Moscone West, the best thing in the AGU giftshop this year, Presidential Union w/Elon Musk, Star Wars mania in the exhibitors hall/Moscone North, Chinatown, the poster hall in Moscone South, sunrise from the Hilton,  the Embarcadero.

I just returned from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, CA. With over 1,700 abstracts and 20,000 attendees, it’s quite the nerd fest. AGU also hosts a slew of workshops and networking opportunities and a student conference before the main festivities began, some of which I’d like to talk about my favorite ones here.

Monday afternoon was my poster presentation, so I got up early, registered and put my poster up. Being close to Chinatown, I filled my stomach with tasty Dim Sum and returned to attend the GPM-related sessions. For my poster, I was participating in the Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA) because who doesn’t like a little competition (and cash and glory). You never know who your judge is but it’s always fun to guess (one person was playing the “stump the student” game and asked me a ton of questions). While talks are often perceived as more prestigious, I actually prefer presenting posters at larger conferences. You get more exposure to random scientists and I like being able to interact with people one on one. However, I love the adrenaline of giving a talk to a packed room too.


On Tuesday, I attended the student breakfast, which is an excellent opportunity to meet other students and get life advice from senior scientists (and fuel up for a long day!). The Presidential Union featured Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Space X. The line was loooooooooong, with people queuing over an hour before. The format was interview style; AGU president Margaret Leinen first asked questions and then opened the floor to the audience. Elon Musk was more soft-spoken than I expected but he was also full of witty one-liners (sketchnoted wonderful by Sarah Dewitt).

I also attended a “writing science in plain english” workshop as part of AGU’s Sharing Science series. The panel emphasized the importance of using simple words instead of jargon terms, and how its smarter science to write clearly rather than using big words to sound smart. The second speaker described how, even in science, you have to write a compelling story, and build it in a way that keeps your reader hooked. The last panelist gave tips on producing visuals for your science, which can be made using tools as simple as power point. A picture says 1000 words! It was a long day, but I dragged myself back out at 7p to the Early Career Female Networking Workshops. I overdosed on tasty brownies and got to meet a mid-career scientists working for a non-profit. As grad students, we’re told “academia or bust!” so I do not know much about other options. It was amazing how many different projects she worked on. I also ran into a PhD student who not only went to my high school, but also my Alma Mater! Small world.

I didn’t make it to the fun run this year, but I recommend it. In past years I’ve made a few contacts with outdoorsy scientists (anyone else notice how many geologists are also marathoners?). It’s a very beautiful early morning run along the Embarcadero (docks/shoreline) which gets you heart pumping without the need of coffee. Instead, I did some morning sight seeing in golden gate park and returned to peruse the poster hall. Try to go twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon, so that you can talk to the presenting authors. It’s also great way to run into old friends and colleagues. At the AGU booth in the exhibit hall there was a “sketch you science” project, where you tried to convey your research in picture form (and tape it to the wall, to fully relive your childhood). It was fun to think of my work in a more creative way.

I attended the Authors Workshop on Thursday, which had presentations from AGU journal editors and representatives from Wiley. They shared some good tips on the publication process (to cover letter or not cover letter? the importance of communicating with the editor, how to REALLY write your abstract. Who should be considered an author and what are their roles?). I learned the important of using keywords and social media to promote your paper — most papers are discovered through internet searches, so it’s important to link to your work. This was one of my favorite workshops of the conference. The premier of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was today, so fever gripped the city. There was even a guest appearance by R2D2!


All in all, this was a great AGU. I spent more time at workshops, early-career training, and town halls than I did in the past. I talked to people about job opportunities and postdocs. Since I was a student volunteer for this meeting, it was cool to contribute to this big event. I also got to meet a lot of the AGU staff and scientists who worked hard to make the conference happen. Some complain that AGU is perhaps too big and too interdisciplinary, but I think that’s what makes it unique and special. I attend smaller conferences to interact only with my small subfield; AGU fills a niche in earth sciences for getting feedback from a variety of people.


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