Variety Is the Spice of Fall Meeting

In just a few weeks, thousands of Earth and space scientists will gather in San Francisco for AGU’s 46th annual Fall Meeting, where they will present their research, participate in workshops and town hall meetings, and network until they drop. With a crowd this large, there’s bound to be some variety in the types of attendees. But what makes Fall Meeting such an amazing and inspiring event are the forms that variety takes.

First, there is the science.

The meeting’s more than 20,000 presentations are fully representative of the range of AGU’s science. Attendees have access to cutting-edge research on topics ranging from tiny isotopes to vast tectonic plates, from Earth’s core to the deepest reaches of space, and from the importance of past conditions and dynamics to the conditions we face today and what they mean for the future.

Because so many of these topics overlap and connect, AGU offers special sessions called SWIRLs. SWIRLs link related content across the various sections and topics, thus promoting interdisciplinary collaboration. Further, because we know our science plays such an important role in the education and public policy arenas, we provide a robust schedule of sessions focused on this symbiotic relationship.

Then we have the breadth of organizations represented.

AGU members hail from both the public and private sectors. They conduct their research at academic institutions and government agencies. They work for Fortune 500 companies and local nongovernmental organizations. They teach high school science and spend their days educating policy makers about the importance of investing in scientific research.

Despite these differences, they come together at Fall Meeting for the same reason: to communicate scientific ideas and discoveries that can improve lives, protect public safety, and support economic growth and stability. They use their time at the meeting to share critical new information with one another and to identify areas ripe for collaboration. The benefits of partnerships forged during Fall Meeting are immeasurable.

Next comes the global nature of our science.

We may be the American Geophysical Union, but our membership is far broader. Attendance at Fall Meeting is no different. Every year, 100 or more countries are represented, and much of the research presented has global implications. Our collective success depends on our ability to make connections and share information across borders and oceans. The Fall Meeting is a platform from which those relationships can grow.

One of the ways AGU supports this important effort is through the Lloyd V. Berkner Travel Fellowship program, which provides funding for early-career scientists and students from countries designated by the World Bank as “low” or “lower-middle” income per capita to showcase their research at an AGU-sponsored or cosponsored meeting.

Finally, there is variety in career stage.

Students networking with the professors who wrote their textbooks, post docs presenting in the same session as leaders in their field, early-career scientists sharing the stage with luminaries to be honored for their achievements—these scenarios are all commonplace at Fall Meeting, and they are one of my favorite parts of the meeting.

AGU recognizes that connecting and collaborating with peers at all career stages is just as important to the director of a research center as it is to a graduate student. I presented my first poster at Fall Meeting when I was a student (with bright green hair), so I know what a difference Fall Meeting’s inclusiveness can make in a career. I’ve also presented as a senior researcher, and I can’t begin to quantify the inspiration and enthusiasm I took away from convening with our student presenters.

I’m happy to say that in 2012, more than 7000 Fall Meeting attendees—about 29%—identified as students, and we are on track to reach that number again this year. I’m equally proud to say that the ­Bright STaRS program—which brings middle and high school students to the Fall Meeting to present their own original research—will also have record attendance this year, with more than 100 students participating. Having seen their work in previous years, I can tell you that the future of Earth and space science is indeed looking very bright.

This amalgamation of differing perspectives that occurs each year during the Fall Meeting is inspiring and energizing, and I am truly honored to be a part of that legacy. AGU’s vision statement says that we will “galvanize a community of Earth and space scientists that collaboratively advances and communicates science and its power to ensure a sustainable future”; Fall Meeting is the embodiment of that community.

I look forward to seeing you all in San Francisco!

Carol Finn, President, American Geophysical Union