December 6, 2018

Guest Post: First Timer’s Guide to the AGU Fall Meeting

Posted by Laura Guertin

What started as a tweet:

became this community guide for (not just) first-timers attending the AGU Fall Meeting. Check out the compilation below by Laura Haynes. Thanks, Laura, for helping out our community!

Laura Haynes, author of this guest blog post, is in the last year of her PhD program at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She studies the geologic history of Earth’s climate and oceans by measuring the chemistry of small marine fossils called foraminifera. She is passionate about climate science communication, undergraduate education, and deep sea mud.

First Timer’s Guide to the AGU Fall Meeting

Laura Haynes, Graduate Student, Columbia University

As 20,000+ Earth scientists are poised to descend upon Washington DC next week, it’s hard not to get excited by the prospect of learning about all of the new and cutting edge science. I always look forward to the meeting as an opportunity to connect with old friends and start new collaborations and connections. However, as a first time attendee, and especially as an undergraduate, AGU can be an overwhelming experience. With multi-hour poster presentations and unlimited scientists to meet, it will undoubtedly a thrilling but exhausting week. To help first time attendees enjoy their first AGU (and the rest of us, too!), I polled AGU veterans on Twitter for some of their favorite ways to stay engaged, productive, and healthy during the conference. Here is a guide I compiled incorporating many of those responses (to see the original thread, click here). Thank you to all who contributed!


Rule No. 1: Wear Comfortable Shoes. Many an AGU-goer have learned this the hard way. Make sure you have spare comfortable pairs, just in case!

Rule No. 1.1: Take care of yourself during the meeting. You will likely be overwhelmed and tired at times. That is OK and perfectly normal. See many tips for conserving energy and enjoying the conference later in the guide.

General Meeting Setup:

  • Oral sessions:
    • These are going on all the time, both in the morning and afternoon. It is common to come and go in between talks. I try to avoid leaving before the talk is over if at all possible.
    • That being said, it is a great (and oftentimes more relaxing and enriching) experience to sit in an entire session and see the progression of the scientific topic.
    • “Making it to back-to-back talks at opposite ends of the conference center is probably not worth running, no matter how comfy your shoes are.” -Lorelei Curtin
  • Poster sessions:
    • They also happen every morning and afternoon. This is an excellent way to get to know other scientists by dropping by their poster and by having conversations at yours.
    • On the morning of your presentation, go to the poster hall and find the location/number of your poster. They will have tacks there for you to use to pin it up. Poster takedown is at the end of the day.
    • You’ll likely want to see the other posters in your session. It is OK to leave your poster for a while and visit contemporaneous ones! However, if you do leave, make sure to put up a sign on your board noting the hours that you will be at your poster.
    • “If you are giving a poster, make sure to go to the oral session that goes along with it.”- Michèle LaVigne
    • “I like to browse the posters before the madness of the session kicks off. It’s a quiet time when you can actually soak up the studies and pick out a few posters to seek out later.”- Thomas Bauska
    • “Take a minute just to wander the poster hall and observe titles in sections different than your own. The poster time can be so overwhelming, but some of the titles are really interesting and have made me stop to look over something completely outside my field!”-Hadley McIntosh Marcek

Advice for making a schedule:

  • There is an AGU app that lets you make a daily schedule so you don’t miss anything. Planning beforehand really helps!
  • You can generally find sessions you are interested in by looking for the most relevant divisions (e.g. Biogeosciences, Paleoclimatology & Paleoceanography, Hydrology, etc.).
  • Try and visit sessions that are outside of your main study area, too. The breadth of topics at the meeting is astounding.
  • “AGU offers amazing career steps sessions, science communication and much more. These are particularly helpful for students, create a less intimidating environment and are a great way to meet other early career scientists.”- Iris Moebius

Advice for networking:

    • Networking at conferences is an excellent and important way to meet potential advisors, collaborators, and your future peer group.
    • The poster sessions are ideal for networking. It’s a lot easier to introduce yourself, where everyone is already chatting, socializing and sciencing.
    • If there are specific people you’d like to meet, you can email them beforehand and ask to meet for coffee, or for them to stop by your poster.
  • “In my experience, it’s much easier to cold email an introduction and coffee request than to cold walk up to someone.”-Jessica Morrison
  • “Set a goal for talking to new people and push yourself to meet it (e.g. I will talk to one new person per session).”-Logan Brenner
  • “Don’t be shy. Talk to strangers at posters. Email people whose work you admire and ask to talk with them for 5 minutes. Networking is critically important. Even as a senior scientist, I find it difficult to strike up a conversation with people I don’t already know.” – Ken Caldeira

Advice for conserving energy and enjoying the conference:

  • “It’s ok not to go to every session, and resist the FOMO if you’re really worn out and need a break.”-Jennifer Hertzberg
  • “Seek out a quiet spot in the conference center that will be your “go-to” mental recharge location. Otherwise, you’ll be stressed out just by looking for a place to de-stress. Becomes a never ending cycle!”- Mark Salvatore
    • “The couches in front of the big NASA Hyperwall if it’s there in the exhibit area is perfect for this… just stare and turn off.”-Bill Capehart
  • “Meet new people – but it’s also ok to buy take-out and hide in your hotel room in the evening if you’re exhausted and can’t face more people.” -Delphine Farmer
  • “Have a plan to meet up with friends or colleagues at mealtimes! Being in a new and unfamiliar city at a huge conference can be intimidating, and having some familiar faces around (or a plan to meet up with them occasionally) can help.” -Cassy Rose
  • “Pace yourself so you still have energy/your voice by the end of the week.”- Faye McNeill

Advice for staying healthy:

  • Bring cough drops, cold medicine, hand sanitizer, and tissues. Plane travel, lack of sleep and conference fatigue can lead to the AG-flu!
  • Bring your own water bottle so that you can make sure to stay hydrated.
    • Side note: also bring a reusable coffee mug for the endless coffee and tea you will likely drink during breaks.
  • Make sure your backpack isn’t too heavy. In most cases, you probably don’t need your laptop and can get away with taking handwritten notes.
  • “Bring lip balm!! Conference centre is often dry, and you often are talking a lot, leading to easily chapped lips!”-Chandra Amber T
  • “…for chronic pain sufferers, the post AGU pain syndrome is a holiday killer… take care of YOU during the meeting!”- Jenn Fehrenbacher

Advice for being engaged and soaking up the science:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I am always glad that I asked a question. It is a great way to participate in the science and gain visibility.
    • “Networking is as important as the science. Be curious. Ask questions. No question is too dumb. Speakers will appreciate it.”-Mikael Attal
  • “I like to take notes (digitally, so they are searchable) during most talks. It helps me stay engaged, and it’s amazing how little I remember a few months later about “that one talk about that one thing…” Also helps me feel brave enough to ask a question if I write it down first” -Sarah Crump
  • “Sit toward the front of a session if you’re interested, you’ll be more engaged.”-Joanmarie Del Vecchio
  • “Reflect daily. At the end of the day (or first thing the following morning), write down the most interesting/exciting thing (or two things) you learned that day and why. At the end to the week, rank them.” -Brian Yanites
  • “Take ~10mins/day for synthesis: Jot down the ideas you found most exciting/interesting that day, the names of the people who presented them, and any outstanding questions you want to read more about. Set aside time in early Jan to take out your notes & follow up” – Bronwen Konecky

Don’t miss the Exhibit Hall:

  • NASA booth: try to get a NASA calendar, they run out fast! These and also fun space posters make excellent holiday gifts.
  • School booths: many universities have booths set up where you can ask questions about their graduate programs.
  • Many organizations, such as the Association for Women Geosciences & the American Geosciences Institute, offer scholarships and internships- check them out.

Other Information, Events and Resources:

Reporting Harassment and AGU’s Code of Conduct:

All information here is copied from:

“AGU is committed to providing a safe, productive, and welcoming environment for all meeting participants and AGU staff. All participants, including, but not limited to, attendees, speakers, volunteers, exhibitors, AGU staff, service providers, and others are expected to abide by this AGU Meetings Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct applies to all AGU meeting-related events, including those sponsored by organizations other than AGU but held in conjunction with AGU events, in public or private facilities.”

  • If you are the subject of unacceptable behavior or have witnessed any such behavior, please immediately notify an AGU staff member or AGU volunteer in a leadership position. AGU staff who are wearing “Safe AGU” buttons are trained to assist you if you need to report a harassment or other safety/security issue.
  • Notification should be done by contacting an AGU staff person on site or by emailing your concern to [email protected] or [email protected].
  • Anyone experiencing or witnessing behavior that constitutes an immediate or serious threat to public safety is advised to contact 911 and locate a house phone and ask for security.

Early Career and Student events:


Mentoring Opportunities:


Student Experiences from Past AGU’s:


Science Communication and Science Policy Events:


Union Sessions:

Check out in particular U53A: “The challenges of recognizing implicit bias in the Earth and Space sciences”, Friday PM