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The Fall AGU, one of the world's largest scientific conferences, and how to make the most of it

By Jennifer Veitch, Numerical Modeller and SOMISANA Project Manager, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The 2018 Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) launched its centennial year and was held for the first time in Washington, D.C. from 10 to 14 December.

More than 28 000 delegates, in fields spanning the Earth and space sciences, gathered to share the cutting edge in their various disciplines.

The meeting focused on ethics, diversity and inclusion, while exploring the many dimensions of science's impact on society. Representing SAEON, I presented recently submitted work on extreme events in the Cape Point wave record in the 'natural hazards' session of the meeting.

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The Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union is one of the largest scientific conferences in the world (Photo: AGU)

SAEON's numerical modeller Jennifer Veitch braving the cold in Washington, D.C.

The agenda was packed and required careful attention when navigating the various channels offered for science communication that included ~50 parallel sessions for oral presentations, plenary sessions, poster presentations, 'townhalls' that were in the form of panel discussions, interactive 'eLighting' presentations, workshops and field trips. Interactions with leaders in the fields of ocean modelling, operational monitoring and ocean sciences in general proved most beneficial, as was the opportunity to broaden my horizon beyond the sphere of marine science.

Pointers for attending big conferences

The AGU is one of the largest scientific conferences in the world and indeed the largest that I have ever attended. Upon reflection, I've compiled a few pointers on attending and making the most of big conferences:

  • Prior to the conference, make a schedule for yourself by spending a couple of hours studying the agenda and deciding which talks to attend.
  • Register the day before the conference starts, if possible, to avoid the rush on the first morning.
  • Familiarise yourself with the venue and locations of all the sessions you wish to attend.
  • Don't feel like you need to spend all your time at the oral presentation sessions. Give yourself a break by going to check out a few posters that you are interested in.
  • Prior to the conference, identify people who are attending that you would like to meet and try to schedule a lunch or dinner meeting with them. Be sure to book a restaurant nearby in advance as they all get very busy at the lunch break.
  • At these large conferences, lunch is not usually included. Pack or buy a sandwich to bring along so that you don't need to stand in the very long lunch queues at all vendors/restaurants near the conference venue.
  • Bring a water bottle that you can refill.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and carry a backpack as you will be doing a lot of walking between sessions.

I look forward to putting these to the test at the next big conference that I might be lucky enough to attend.

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