Another EGU in online only mode and things have changed since last year. It started with technical chaos but after this got under control it was a really nice and enjoyable conference experience.
A week before
EGU is traditionally one week long, but this time it got extended for another week. The week focused on medal lectures and some networking events, but as those where hard to see, it was for most obviously just about the household names giving an interesting talk. Those talks were on Zoom, which allowed a simple following for most. For myself and many others it was still the week to prepare the contributions. The displays of last year got back, but were extended by a single slide for a 2 minute presentation. Communicating about this worked not really ideal, so there were still some questions around what acutally had to be prepared.
The “real” first day
We had the honor to convene our session on seasonal to decadal predictions in the morning of the “real” first day.
EGU had implemented a new environment compared to last year, which theoretically took care of some issues bugging last years edition. It started alright, but soon people had trouble to get onto the server (nothing unusual at EGU, that’s what we know from every edition). But as some speakers had audio troubles and then the promised breakout-chats after the initial comments did not show up it was quite a improvised discussion session. We implemented more or less a system we had used last year in the chat-only conference, but beside the chaos it was sad, that not everyone got the input on their contribution they deserved. But still, it worked rather well under the circumstances.
The sessions later that day were even more catastrophic from the technical side of things and so the technical system was changed to Zoom only. From then on it worked quite well, as most scientists are used to Zoom after a year of pandemic.
Relaxing in the middle
As a scientist with quite interdisciplinary interest, I always find something, which I like to watch. But this year I had the impression it was even more condensed. Anyway, a digital conferences has its advantages. You can stream the talks onto your TV, enjoy your couch and when the show is over you get to your desk to have some chats in the breakout rooms. In the evenings some networking events happened via Gather.town. It offered some options for meetings, which is the part which sufferes the most in digital conferences.
Friday was the day of my own little presentation and a lot of other talks I liked to see (unfortunately all at the same time).
My talk went quite alright, having a short talk does not require much creativity. There is not a lengthy introduction, everything is brought into short soundbites and it is effectively just an advert to lure people into the breakout session. Had a few discussions afterwards and enjoyed otherwise the rest of the meeting. In the evening was a closing party over Gather.town, which was a bit better than the Zoom one a year before, but still not optimal.
Do digital conferences now work?
Many said they preferred this year over the last edition. beside from the technical chaos on Monday it was quite enjoyable. It is still far away from the personal experience in Vienna, which I look really forward to in the upcoming years. It was possible to find and talk to people and former colleagues, setting up new projects and see what others do. Some liked the 2 minute presentations, I think they are not ideal.
Because the main struggle of this zoom-like conference is taht again Early Career Scientists py the prive. It is tough for them to get into a 2 minute ad-talk, stripped of all introductions and motivations. When you have seen the field beforehand in the last years, you know usually what they are talking about, but for those getting new into science it can be a quite steep demotivating learning curve. Also they do not get much exposure in the breakout-rooms cause established scientists use them for larger chats among themselves and drawing with this the attention away. The separation into talks and posters at the usual personal conferences has its advantages, which are often forgotten. But as also former editions of the EGU had developed away from ECR-friendliness, it is nothing surprising. The biggest challenge of a future EGU, may it be hybrid or online, will be to advance the experience of young scientists.
All in all it was a great conference. I like being at the EGU, it is still the go-to-conference every year, because of its interdisciplinary opportunities. After day one it was alright, and it went rather smoothly. Let’s hope that next year will have again some form of real Vienna in it, as I miss to meet friends and other scientists in person. See you next year, wherever it will be.