EGU 2022: Back in person

EGU 2022 is done and as always it was a great experience. As the first partly in person meeting in three years, it was great to see colleagues and friends again after all that has kept us apart in that time. Originally planned in April it was shifted for a few weeks as it was determined not plausible to have the conference under the COVID situation earlier. Sure, that might have kept some away, but was certainly the best decision under the circumstances.

The conference

The conference started on Monday with the typical technical issues, some where not solved until the end of the week (like accessibility issues of the listings during a live session on site). For me it was more a day of visiting different sessions on various interest. Tuesday was dominated by the North Atlantic session with many interesting talks. On Wednesday I had my calm day and focused more on meeting people rather than spending the day in sessions.

The serious part of the conference for me started on Thursday. We had the third edition of our S2D-Session, and with it the first one with in person attendance. It went quite well. We had a medal lecture at the start and we even managed to get a small discussion started.

Friday was then time to give my own talk on challenges within climate models. The talk went alright and so the rest of the day was a typical EGU Friday. Meeting people, follow some last sessions and saying good-bye to Vienna.

Does the format work

Due to the situation the format was changed to shorter presentations only and with it the poster session canceled. Instead of the traditional 12+3 format the speaking time was reduced towards 5+1 or 6+1. Many conveners used their freedom to include discussion time into the session and hat a bit more to do to manage the hybrid format not only in the room, but also virtually.

While everybody was happy to have the in person experience again, there were quite a bit of discussions on the hallway that the format was not ideal. Everyone accepted that it was the best that could be done in the situation, but it was clear that many hoped to get back to a more traditional format. Hybrid will likely stay, which is good, as it offers more accessibility and probably will also limit a bit the overcrowding in the centre.

Main point mentioned in many conversations was the desire to get the poster sessions back. EGU was always special in the sense of a combined late evening session, used for interactions, meet ups and finding dinner groups (beside discussing science). After the failed experiment to divide the session over the day in the last editions before COVID the canceling of it this year lead to a huge hole in the conference experience. It let to much less interchange between fields and so most people met those who they had planned to meet anyway (no wonder after not seeing some colleagues for three years). Certainly it is to be hoped that we get the old format back when COVID allows. How to make that possible in a hybrid format will be a huge challenge.

Second topic was the shortness of the talks. I heard many, especially first time visitors at an in-person conference, that felt that they get not enough out of it. Instead of increasing the accessibility due to an all talk format, it massively reduced it. 5 or 6 minutes are not enough to get into a topic, especially for non-experts of a field and so you loose with 15 talks in 2 hours track on what happened in which talk. Also having 5 talking sessions on a day is too exhausting, especially when medal talks follow in the evening. It also almost killed completely any question or discussion, as the short time did not allow people to collect their thoughts to ask a meaningful one.

But of course there are things, which might be improvable without huge changes. One would be the option to show virtual presenters a timer, including the option to warn them that their time will be up. The necessity for conveners to talk into the presentation and with that stopping the flow of it, was a huge problem. The most used word during the days was „next“ to advise a slide change by the assistant (who by the way did as always an amazing job). Also many on-side presenters chose to use the assistants for slide changes, as the equipment in the rooms was for many unintuitive and inadequate. How to solve pointing onto the slides, while making it possible to be followed by the virtual community will also a big topic for the future. And as always, it would be possible to show in the online system all sessions at a given time, independent of the division they belong to.

But yes, beside all the criticism there were also remarkable positive points. People where happy for the coffee breaks (even when too short) and all the free tea and coffee. Also the water points to refill bottles were great. To place the exhibitors into the tent instead of the lobby might have given them less footfall, but it really opened space for chats. Having the A-hall, unused by the usual poster session, as a meeting point was awesome. That enabled everybody even with the lack of two poster floors to meet in a relaxed environment.

All in all it was great to be back in Vienna and we hope it is there to stay.