AGU: What a Week!

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American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, December 3–7, 2012, San Francisco

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting

December 3, 2012 to December 7, 2012

San Francisco, California


Lois Smith at the University of Colorado at Boulder

SPS Chapter:

Lois Smith stands atop a hill overlooking San Francisco. Photo by Anthony Rasca.

After researching noctilucent clouds for almost two years, my advisor and I decided it was time for me to present at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, the largest geoscience conference in the world. More than 23,000 attendees from all over the world took over the Moscone Convention Center in downtown San Francisco for a week of science, collaboration, meetings, and, of course, fun!

My first “Wow, this conference is huge!” moment came on my flight to San Francisco, which had 30-plus poster tubes on board. It was clear that I was flying with others heading to the same meeting. The flight attendants debated dedicating an entire overhead bin to the poster tubes.

Once I got my bearings at this enormous meeting, I tried to focus on going to oral sessions, which feature fascinating and eye-opening presentations by well-established scientists. My first and favorite session was about using commercial space flights to launch discounted satellites for research purposes. This session inspired me, as an undergraduate on the brink of graduate school, to come up with several future projects. I took the opportunity to discuss my ideas with the presenters and other scientists afterward. If I learned anything this week, it was that collaboration is key for success!

The AGU conference also gave me the opportunity to speak with several scientists I am interested in working with in graduate school. Walking up to someone at a conference, telling that person why you want to work with him or her, and citing some of your previous research sends a much louder message than an email with a curriculum vitae.

I received a great deal of positive feedback over the week and many exhortations to apply to various programs, some of which I had previously never considered. In fact, I was just about to rule out one program on my list when I spoke with a professor from that school who is doing the exact research I want to do. I was so impressed with his knowledge, background, and persona that the school jumped back on my list.

My poster session on Tuesday morning was quite an experience. Within a few minutes of putting up my poster, I was visited by several well-known scientists in my field, who asked many questions about my work. There was quite a bit of traffic throughout the day, and I was impressed by the feedback I received. I cannot wait to get back to my research and start working through all the ideas and possibilities people discussed with me at the AGU conference.

Overall, the conference was a terrific experience. I even met a scientist in the airport while heading back to Boulder. We spoke for more than an hour about research and life. Such connections make me a little less fearful about taking the plunge and heading off to continue my research in graduate school. //

This sprawling “sea of posters” is a hallmark of the AGU meeting. Photo by Lois Smith.

Next up

AGU’s Meeting of the Americas will take place May 14–17 in Cancun. To learn more about it and other upcoming AGU meetings, visit

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