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.

vEGU2021: A “zoom” into science

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.

Final day

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.

Final words

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.

Digital conferences – how might they work?

In the past week we had an interesting experiment: putting the largest European Geo-scientific conference onto a virtual stage. In a short time frame, EGU managed to switch from a huge gathering of people in Vienna to an exchange of scientific ideas on digital channels. And taken together, they did a fabulous job. The channels ran smoothly, the feared chaos induced by trolls didn’t happen and ideas got exchanged quite friction-less. So is all well? Not quite. Under those circumstances it was close to the best what was possible, especially due to the limited time to put it up and running. Nevertheless, as we are part of climate science and the calls to limit travel gets louder, the question arise, how a digital conference might look like in cases in which there is enough time to prepare (so a year or more). So what happens and where are the dangers, when conferences get generally put online in the future.

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IMSC 2019: The final day

With a half day of talks the IMSC 2019 ended today in Toulouse. It was again a quite warm day and not far away the record for the recorded french temperature was broken today. So it was fitting that the final day started with event attribution talks and covered among others heat waves and their attribution to climate change. The next session was the final parallel session and I stayed in the event attribution session. It addressed more events and discussed the limits of these techniques.

After lunch the conference officially ended at it was time to look back at the past days here in southern France. The conference was well organised and fulfilled the expectations. Good food, good location, interesting scientific content. The main topics were extremes and detection and attribution. It blocked quite a big chunk of the conference and pushed the other topics for my taste a bit too far into a corner. Biggest issue in the verification and forecast evaluation was the handling of uncertain observations. Apart from that the conference covered good statistical practice, some talks about data and many good discussions about statistical topics. So it was fun to join this conference again, even with the very hot weather. So let’s see where the enxt conference will be, in three or something years.