VGP Spotlight Features

Surviving & Thriving at AGU

Jessica Ball, Mendenhall Postdoc at the USGS, Menlo Park and

Jenny Riker, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Bristol

The AGU Fall Meeting is one of the most dynamic annual scientific events in the fields of volcanology, geochemistry, and petrology. For students, and especially first-time attendees, the experience can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming. Here are our tips to get you through the week happily and healthily, and to help you take maximum advantage of all the meeting has to offer.

Pace yourself

There’s so much good stuff going on at the Fall Meeting that you just can’t do it all. It helps to have a schedule (you can create a personal itinerary online), but don’t expect to get to everything on it. Burn out is a drag. Hoarse voices and the ‘conference plague’ are perennial meeting features, so take care of yourself from the start. Be willing to change your plans if you’re tired, and be open to spontaneity – you might stumble upon things you didn’t even know would interest you. If you can’t get to a session, many Fall Meeting presentations are made available online, including posters. You can also catch up with people outside of sessions. Chances are they’re just as booked up as you.

Get your network on

Go to networking events (there are TONS of them), and don’t be shy about talking to people. Meetings are a fantastic time to meet other scientists and build new collaborations – we all have a paper or research nugget that came out of a chance discussion. Take the initiative rather than waiting for your advisor to introduce you, knowing that they are likely to be busy or distracted this week. Introduce yourself at a talk or a poster, ask questions, and make yourself known. The person you make an impression on at Fall Meeting might just be your next employer.


It’s easy to hang out with your friends and other familiar faces at the Fall Meeting. But it’s also fun to meet new people! So talk to your fellow students. You’re likely to come across them again – in sessions at other meetings, reviewing your papers and grant proposals, collaborating with you on new projects, or as future co-workers. There are plenty of events throughout the week, like the Student Mixer Monday evening, the Student Breakfast Wednesday morning, and student-only city tours, to help lubricate the social wheels. Learn more about student events here.

There is such a thing as free lunch. Lots of free lunches, in fact! Or free breakfasts, or free canapés…. The Fall Meeting is awash with opportunities to eat and greet. Get to know your peers and senior scientists over a full plate at events like the Student Breakfast, the Career Opportunities Networking Lunch, and the Networking Reception for Early-Career Female Scientists. Some events require advanced booking, so check the Fall Meeting website for details. And remember: free lunches are important, but so is the time you spend eating them (did we mention networking?).

Play your cards right

Bring your business cards (or have some made), and keep them in your conference badge or pocket. This is an easy way to exchange details – no awkward phone typing when you could be networking. Jot down a few notes on any card you receive, so when someone emails you later (or vice versa), you can remember what you were talking about. Coming across as professional and prepared is just bonus.

Share a room

Housing around here is EXPENSIVE. Split a hotel room with friends or fellow students in your department, go in on a vacation rental with a larger group, or check out the AGU message board, where you can find people who are looking to share hotel costs. The best value rooms always go fast, so plan as far ahead as you can. It can’t hurt to book a room as soon as you submit that abstract – same goes for flights.

Get some sleep

Seriously. San Francisco is good fun, and it’s REALLY tempting to eat, drink, and mingle until the karaoke bar closes every night. But you’ll easily turn into a zombie by the end of the week if you don’t rest up. Don’t feel bad about taking a break to recharge. And bring some ear plugs – the city is 24–7, and although you might be early-to-bed, your roommate might be all-hours.

Eat, drink, and be well

Stay well-fed and hydrated throughout the week to keep your energy up. Carry snacks and some bottled water with you, so you can refuel between sessions. There are also plenty of places to eat near the venue, but food isn’t cheap in San Francisco, especially if you buy it from the Moscone Center. Bring a thermos and stock up on free coffee during the session breaks, and see if you can get a hotel room with a fridge. There’s a Whole Foods and a Safeway within walking distance of Conference venue.

Be (really) prepared

Fair warning, procrastinators: you’ll typically be asked to upload a talk no later than 24 hours before the session starts, so you HAVE to have your talk done in advance. You simply won’t be able to upload something at the last minute. Check your talk for compatibility before your session starts, and carry multiple copies of your talk or poster in case of disaster. It’s also a good idea to bring a copy of your presentation to your session (oral or poster) on a thumb drive, just in case. If you’re giving a poster, pin a few one-page printed versions to the poster board so people can take a copy with them. You can also upload your poster online, so anyone who misses you can take a look and leave comments. If you’re travelling far, have your poster printed on canvas so you can fold it up and pop it in your bag – no need for clunky poster tubes.

Practice makes perfect. Practice your talk or your poster ‘pitch’ – and then practice some more. Giving a talk? Time limits in oral sessions are strict: check the requirements before you go (see above link), and make sure you can stick to time. Touch base with the conveners before your session starts so you know the drill. Most rooms have a countdown timer with a red–yellow– green light indicator to help keep you on pace. Got a poster? Have a brief pitch ready for visitors (just a couple of minutes guiding them through your research), and give them time to ask questions. Posters are a golden opportunity for interaction and feedback, so make the most.

Dress comfortably

You’ll be on your feet A LOT this week. Fortunately we earth and space scientists are a casual bunch, so you can leave the fancy heels and stiff dress shoes at home – dress for comfort instead. Clothing can be slightly more formal if you’re presenting (think business casual). The weather in San Francisco runs the gamut this time of year, from balmy through to ‘wintry mix,’ so check the forecast before you pack. Session rooms may be chilly even if it’s warm outdoors. Layers are your friend.

Don’t carry too much

A backpack or shoulder bag should be fine for a phone, notebook, laptop, snacks and drinks. You’ll have it with you all day and often into the night, so plan accordingly. The conference venue has a bag check if you need to leave for the airport without going back to your hotel.

Kick back in the Student Lounge

A relatively new addition to the Fall Meeting, the Student Lounge is a space to relax, eat, drink, recharge your batteries (literally and figuratively), meet new people, or just take a nap (we all do it!). Throughout the week there will be posted times to meet with AGU leaders and student representatives in your section or focus group (find out who they are) – a great opportunity to network, or to voice your own $0.02 about the Fall Meeting and AGU in general. There’s also a Dinner Board each evening at 5:30, for anyone looking for fellow students to eat with. Find the Lounge in the Moscone South poster hall.