Maarten's (ESR 10) Experience of the AGU Fall Meeting 2018

Maarten Heijnen (ESR 10) | @ Washington, D.C., U.S.A. (10-14 December 2018)

The AGU fall meeting might be the largest conference for geoscientists in the world. I imagined from all the stories over the years that this conference is the Las Vegas of geosciences, and I wanted to experience this at least once during my PhD. So I took the opportunity to visit last year’s AGU Fall Meeting in Washington D.C.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is a large organisation which organises several geoscience-related events each year, and offers different kinds of support and service to geoscientists. But, they are probably most famous for the fall meeting that organise yearly. This meeting is usually in San Francisco, but has been moving around the United States for the last few years due to renovations of the usual venue. The 2018 edition was held from 10-14 December in Washington, D.C. With approximately 25000 participants yearly, AGU is the largest conference in the field of geosciences in the world.

Due to its enormity, the conference has a lot to offer in terms of science, networking, non-technical activities and sessions, and an exhibition of companies, networks, and associations. Furthermore, the AGU is a broad conference, allowing me to compose a very relevant schedule of talks consisting of interesting bits from ocean sciences, sedimentology, physical geography, and geophysics. Another important reason for me was to come in contact with the deep-water sedimentology community in the United States, who were not present at the conferences I’ve attended previously. So all of this made me decide to attend the AGU last year and go and see this massive conference for myself!

I submitted an abstract in the summer of 2018, which was accepted as a poster presentation in the submarine channel session. The AGU has a reputation for being a very good conference for poster sessions, so I was excited to experience this. After the schedule was finalised, I learned that the submarine channel session lasted all Monday, with orals in the morning and posters in the afternoon. Different from many other conferences, posters are not squeezed in the late afternoon (e.g. 5-7) during drinks after a full day of talks. For me, the AGU definitely lived up to its name of being good for posters. A lot of people visited my poster and I had interesting discussions during the session.

I also enjoyed the oral sessions very much, and noticed that some research groups in the United States have very different focus and do research on aspects that we don’t really in Europe, which was very interesting. Furthermore, industry presentations were much more common during the AGU than during other conferences I had attended before, which can give a nice twist to an oral session.

Apart from technical sessions, sessions and workshops on all sorts of other subjects such as communication and education are organised. I attended a session and followed a workshop on science communication, which was also really interesting.

Furthermore, several relaxing and networking events are organised during the AGU. The biggest event this year was the ‘night at the museum’. On one of the nights of the conference, all museums on the Washington mall were open in the evening and only accessible for AGU participants. I went, however, with some friends to see the film ‘free solo’ in the National Geographic office, which was preceded by a discussion panel of geologists. Lastly, I attended a student’s breakfast one of the mornings, which was a really nice opportunity to meet fellow PhD students and early career scientist.

Altogether I experienced the AGU Fall Meeting as an enormous, sometimes overwhelming conference, with a very diverse and extensive program. It is a great conference for multidisciplinary scientist and a great way to meet scientists that you generally don’t meet at other conferences.


  • Washington, D.C., U.S.A.