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.


An honest comment

The party is over, EGU 2019 is history. Over the days I have written some impressions I got from the conference, but sticked mostly to the positive points (Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). As always, the EGU itself, the opportunities it offers to talk to all kind of scientists and listen to their advancements was amazing. But compared to the last years the organizers have implemented several changes to the program, on which I would like to address a few honest comments. I am very aware that there are many people in the background who do a hell of a job to make this conference possible and they face the impossible task to make everybody happy and the challenge that every year more and more scientists want to attend the conference.

The topics I want to address in this post are the following

  • increase from 6 to 7 talks per session
  • limit to one contribution per scientists (instead of two)
  • poster sessions in parallel to talks
  • networking session instead of poster session in the evening
  • general comments

Most of these topics came up in many many conversations during the days with other scientists, people are complaining every year (usually about the drinks and the rooms for certain sessions), but this year there were constant discussions about all sorts of complaints.

Number of talks per session

In order to have enough time for the in parallel running poster sessions the number of talks was increased from 6 to 7 per session. A reason given was that more scientists want to have a talk rather than a poster and therefore there should be more space for talks. I personally have expected a worse impact by this change. Yes, surely, after six talks you are tired and do not listen anymore to the last one as you should, but as many do not follow the whole session anyway (see poster parallel to talks below), it seems to work. What I find more problematic is the notion that only because scientists prefer talks they should given more of them. First, this devalues posters and second, talks are up to now seen as something like an award for a good abstract and an interesting topic. Devaluing posters and talks at the same time is certainly not good, but as we have to see it as a business decision, it is acceptable. Especially as it has a reason behind it (more time for posters).

Limit for contributions

When I found out about this change I was honestly deeply worried. I have made the argument in the past that this change will heavily impact early career researchers.

The argument for this is two fold. On the one side the big shots will get a talk. Generally EGU is good in promoting young scientists to get talks at their conference. And with more talks available, it is hoped that the opportunities are not diminished for the ECR’s. I have no overview whether this has worked, but I give the benefit of the doubt. The other side is potentially much more damaging. In theory most senior scientists will now have only one abstract and most of them will end up in talks (I neglect at this points that most senior scientist are able to put fake first authors at the first place of the author list to have as many contributions as they want). That means, they will not have a poster where they are obliged to fulfill their attendance time. And it is the poster sessions where ECR’s have a chance to get in contact with the senior scientists, might it be to make their names known or make important steps for their career. By risking to loose these opportunities (see someone you are interested in a talk and then go to their poster to talk with them), ECR’s are in risk of loosing chances to progress. I understand that there are now too many scientists to give everybody a second contribution, but I am not really convinced by this argument. Because when you walked through the poster halls, many many lines in of poster boards where empty. So there is space for more posters. Might there be ways of change? Sure, but they might all be more complicate to implement (allow two contributions, with a first and a second, but the second is not guaranteed to be allowed to get through… but as many author lists are cheated it will be hard to implement as scientists will find ways around it).

Empty poster boards over the day

Poster sessions in parallel to talks

The biggest change was to put posters in parallel to talks. It is not uncommon to do this at conferences, AGU is famous for that. Nevertheless, I do not think that this is a good decision. There are massive consequences for the conference, not only for the posters, but for the talks as well. Compared to my last experiences at EGU I got the impression that more scientists leave the talks in between. This leads to disturbances, especially in the small rooms. As they are overfilled anyway, people leaving are ending in pushing and and asking for letting them through. Also posters are devalued by this. I was surprised that in the poster session I attended there was still proper crowd (and that at the end of the conferences), but in the end you have now to choose: see the headline science in a talk or much more of potentially non-headline stuff in a poster session. It might work when you are a disciplinary scientists (as I have written before, EGU is not really prepared for interdisciplinary visitors) as ideally there are just a few sessions you really care about and those are all coordinated that the poster sessions do not overlap the talk sessions. But honestly, this hardly ever is the case. As a consequence I have certainly missed out of many interesting discussions at the posters this year as well as many talks (usually ECR talks), which I had to skip because I still wanted to have the chance to see scientists at their posters.

The networking session

Networking is important. Anyway, the networking session was introduced to full the space for the poster session. And in my opinion, the introduction of the final hour in the evening has completely failed. At the first day you saw quite a lot of people in the poster halls talking and drinking, the typical catch up at the start of a conference. But the following day a huge amount of scientists used this hour to make an early end to the conference day and went to town for food. So basically the conference was shorten every day by an hour. I also missed the walk through the poster halls at the end of the day. Have a drink, go to sessions you potentially wouldn’t have had walked in on purpose and having nice chats with young and senior scientists. That is for myself (and many others I spoke) the most important part of a conference. This is gone at the EGU. Most scientists take down their poster either directly after their poster session in the morning/afternoon or at the beginning of the networking session. There is hardly anybody at their posters anymore and especially those you want to talk about are gone. In my opinion this has heavily damaged the usefulness of the conference. So at least make the network session another attendance time for the poster. Having one in the morning/afternoon and then another in the evening for everybody who preferred talks over the day would be proper way to minimize the impact.

General comments

Yes, complaints at EGU are the usual, but having this many heard over the days in close to all conversation I had is not a good sign. And we are now not talking about the little thinks like drinks (you can never make that right) or room choices (they are always too busy in the small rooms and to empty in the big ones). And yes, there are some complaints I can fully understand on the minor topics (offering springs to not to use so many plastic bottles, but giving out the drinks in the evening in plastic bottles? Really?!) The topics mentioned above are much more damaging for the EGU and the experience the scientists take from it. It leads to devaluing posters, disturbances in the talks sessions, ECR’s only confronted with people who care about their topic and hardly anymore a wider audience, even more the feeling you have missed important research and opportunities, and the impression that that what many people valued so highly at the EGU is gone. While I do not expect that there will be a roll back of the changes for next year, there will be a bigger topic coming up for the future of the EGU, which I heard in so many conversations: Is Vienna still the right place for the EGU? We all love Vienna, not too expensive, a nice conference centre, good opportunities to live, eat and socialize during the conference. Nevertheless, EGU has outgrown the conference centre. The queues at the small rooms get longer and longer, many do not get in and then look for a second choice. In some sessions the number of people in the room where double the number of seats available. Together with the changes made this year and the consequences that even more scientists want to switch between sessions and posters, I do not see how Vienna can be the long-term choice of the EGU anymore. The alternative would be to actively limit the number of scientists attending, e.g. by rejecting abstracts. Honestly, nobody wants that, but the changes implemented this year haven’t made the conference experience better.

EGU 2019: Final day

The final day at EGU 2019 is done. It was an exciting day here in Vienna, which ended with my poster at the final poster session of the conference. But let’s start in the morning. After hanging up my poster I joined the Energy Meteorology session for a couple of talks. Next I went to the data assimilation and prediction session, which is a stark contrast to the the one before. While in the Energy session data assimilation will be explained in some nice pictures, the latter session is always highly theoretical and filled with a lot of equations.

The second session of the day was for me happening at the dynamics of the atmospheric circulation session. It described well the influence of eddies on the atmospheric circulation and thermodynamics and showed the change of wind shear over time. In between I took a look at a talk about skewed ensembles, which gave me a lot to think about.

After lunch break, which saw a bit of sun, but was at the same time quite chilly outside, I visited a PICO session on paleo-databases. PICO are still not really my favorite type of presentation, but with this topic it was quite alright and let to interesting themes and discussions. Again I interrupted the session to see another talk on Gaussian process regression.

Final session was then the poster session. I showed a topic quite similar to last year. I was surprised that even for the late session I had some interesting discussions as usually these sessions are quite empty. With that the conference ended from my side. It was a successful one from my side of view as many discussions will hopefully open doors for future collaborations. Concerning the conference organisation today I will write another post in the upcoming days, as it will require an honest comment. Up to then, until next time in Vienna.

EGU 2019: Presentation day

The fourth day of the EGU 2019 was the day of seasonal prediction. To be more exact the session was named subseasonal to seasonal (S2S) and it covered a wide range of topics within this field. It started in the morning with a session on mechanisms and ranged from large scale atmospheric patterns to ocean variables.

The second session focused on predictability and showed several examples of variables which are predictable from a few weeks to a few month in advance. In the final presentation session the topic switched to applications and showed some use of the prediction for the energy and agricultural sector.

In this section I have also given a talk on multi-model subsampling. It was not really my talk, as I was just taking over from someone who was not able to make it to the conference this year on short notice. Anyway, it went quite alright. The day ended with the posters of this session, which offered a good mix for all of the topics above. Tomorrow I will have my own poster in the final session of the conference.