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A Viennese Whirl: The Madness of Conferences

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Hello again, dear readers, for another blog post; this time about that great totem of academia: the conference. The last week of April saw several of my compatriots and I jet off to Vienna, there to attend the 2017 EGU General Assembly (EGU for short). EGU is the European Geoscience Union; the umbrella body that covers all Earth-Science-type researchers on the continent. The General Assembly draws 14,000-odd scientists to Vienna every year for a week in April, ranging from atmospheric physicists to volcanologists. The conference is huge, with a kaleidoscope of subjects and sessions covered – obviously, we were mainly going to attend the cryosphere strand (i.e. the bit that covers snow and ice) – but, if you have other research interests, there’ll be a session for them too.

The EGU logo.

The EGU logo.

The conference lasts from Monday to Friday, with a few pre-conference events on the preceding Sunday. Each day, each research area will have several sessions of oral presentations on specific areas within that strand, starting at 08:30 and carrying on until 17:00.So, for the cryosphere, a session might be on the behaviour of glaciers in a particular geographical area, or on a particular method for investigating ice, or it might be deliberately broad, to ensure that cross-cutting research doesn’t get left out. At the end of each day, between 17:30 and 19:00, there are poster sessions related to each of the oral sessions. These are for work that isn’t sufficiently-finished for an oral presentation, or that is perhaps lower impact, or if you don’t want the formality of an actual talk. Essentially, poster sessions consist of a big hall filled with posters, with the researcher responsible standing in front of their poster. Any conference attendee can wander round, read the posters and talk to the researchers about their work on the poster. It’s a useful way of presenting and getting feedback on your work in an informal setting. And of networking, which is in many ways equally valuable – at a big conference like EGU, most of the big names in the field will be in attendance, so it’s a great way of meeting them, which could turn out to be very useful in organising collaborations or getting a job.