December 20, 2021
I attended the 2021 AGU Fall Meeting in New Orleans in person. While I typically blog during the conference about sessions and workshops I attend, I knew that the first meeting post really needed to be a shout-out to the incredibly dedicated and hard-working staff that are the American Geophysical Union. (*And I need to do better giving this acknowledgement to the staff every year – it’s a shame that it took this year for me to give a shout-out for just how hard this group works to run a meeting for 20,000+ scientists from across the globe)
So great to see smiling #AGU21 faces on the streets of New Orleans!
Thanks to all of the AGU staff who worked so hard to pull off this challenging meeting. Let the science begin!
— Matthew Pritchard (@MattEPritchard) December 12, 2021
The AGU Fall Meeting for 2021 will go in the record books for so many reasons, most notably that this was the first-ever hybrid conference of its kind in terms of numbers – and all taking place during a pandemic. Many times, a conference is evaluated by the quantity and quality of presentations. But this year, the “shining stars” of the Fall Meeting were the AGU staff and the constantly-changing conditions they had to navigate to lay the foundation for a new and different direction for this year’s meeting.
This is an #AGU21 staff appreciation tweet. Having taught a small class hybrid this semester I cannot even begin to fathom how hard organizing this meeting must’ve been. I hope we can all extend them the grace they deserve as we deal with challenges involved in any hybrid effort
— Dr./Prof. Sarah Hörst (@PlanetDr) December 14, 2021
For several years, I have served on the AGU Meetings Committee, and it still amazes me to learn all that is involved in organizing all of the conferences in the AGU meetings portfolio. Although I have run meetings on my campus and in the region, I continue to be in awe of the scope and scale necessary to connect the dots between all of the moving parts of the Fall Meeting. From selecting and working with the host city to the abstract submissions to arranging the scientific program to updating the meeting app and advertising – and there is so much more that is taken care of by the incredible AGU staff with a high degree of professionalism and attention to detail.
I can’t imagine planning the Fall Meeting as a hybrid event for the first time – again, during a pandemic. As each of us (the AGU members) were addressing or battling the COVID conditions at work, trying to protect the health of our kids and at-risk family members, struggling with decisions ranging from eating out with friends to visiting parents, etc. – we need to be mindful that the AGU staff were facing these same challenges as well.
The AGU staff put protocols in place to help each of us feel safer in the New Orleans Convention Center – required vaccination, required masking, color lanyards to alert others what space we wanted around us, spacing of chairs in the rooms of plenaries and oral sessions (including some with standing round top tables in the back of the room), beverage breaks indoors and outdoors with plenty of seating… of course, being indoors still has a risk of transmission, but for those that attended on site, we knew and accepted that risk.
In addition to the work of the AGU staff in running a successful fall meeting, the local residents of New Orleans played an important role in supporting our conference. I echo the compliments to all the workers at the convention center during the fall meeting, who were clearly excited to have conferences start back up (recall that New Orleans has not just been hit with COVID, but the city and surrounding area is still recovering from the landfall of Hurricane Ida back in August).
— Drew Steen (@drdrewsteen) December 16, 2021
Were there some technology failures in some of the session rooms? Sure. But have there always been technology failures at any national conference? Some of us may remember that slide projectors used to jam during talks! And there were some technology “wins” at this year’s meeting as well. I have heard several attendees provide positive feedback on using the meeting app to submit questions to speakers, eliminating the opportunity for someone to use a mic in a room to tell a story rather than ask a question, removing the intimidation for a student or early career scientist from getting up to ask a question, etc. The app and the ability to upvote questions provided equity and access to individuals that may never have felt the opportunity to fully participate in a session. Fortunately, we as AGU members have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback and volunteer to serve on AGU committees to shape the meeting formats we would like to see.
AGU’s CEO and Executive Director Randy Fiser began at AGU in August 2020, the year AGU Fall Meeting was fully online for the first time. This year (2021), the meeting was hybrid for the first time. Under his leadership, it will be exciting to see the future direction of fall meetings (I’m confident there will be several more “firsts” with Randy!) – and we have the staff at AGU to thank for allowing us scientists to continue to disseminate, collaborate, and network in emerging and sustainable ways moving forward.
Thank you, AGU staff, for all that you do for the Fall Meeting and year-round!
Sincerely, Laura Guertin