We all woke up that Monday morning 4 May 2020 (at home rather than in Vienna) with mixed feelings about what to expect from this year’s exceptional EGU GA: Sharing Geoscience Online.
For some of us, it was the first time we were entering a chat room and, for many, the first time we were going to chat about our scientific work online. If you were an author, a convener or a curious attendee, that moment was probably a mix of excitement and panic: Should I say ‘hello’ when I enter a text-only chat room? What am I going to do if nobody shows up to the session? What if I don’t understand a question? How fast can I type an intelligent answer? Will my typos be so horrible as when I type my messages in the WhatsApp family group?
The week went by and feedback popped up (all anonymised here below):
- “Upon my first connection to a live chat, I was simply impressed by the fact that it worked! The online chat was extremely easy to use, the conveners were all there to moderate the chats, many contributors had prepared impressive presentation material, participants were very active in asking questions and the authors responded quickly in the very short time slots allocated to each presentation.”
- “[…] big compliments to […] the EGU organizing committee for pulling off a digital EGU GA 2020 at such a short notice, and a thousand thanks for making it FREE! This enabled many PhD students to get a great new experience without burning their conference funds on a conference with a limited potential to meet new people.”
- “It was very impressive how EGU/Copernicus managed to pull it off, and probably the best feasible option in the current situation. And I can see how it may be developed into a tool to enable virtual participation alongside a “real” conference.”
- “Excellent work from EGU turning it into a workable online format in such a short time.”
- “The speed of interaction was certainly too high for people who are not used to chat interactions, but in exchange, EGU was all of a sudden open to anyone, anywhere in the world.”
- “It was incredible how conveners were able to efficiently organize chat-sessions and discussions, and authors could explain in only a few sentences the big innovations of their work.”
- “[…] chairing was very hard (needed too much concentration!) I am so happy the other co-conveners were there to help!!”
- “Displays get more attention than a poster ever would.”
- “I would hope that in the future the presentations are on display and then there would just be the discussion … would be great.”
- “Actually, I really liked the format; I stayed concentrated more because I could look at the presentations beforehand and so follow the discussions better. Maybe something to think about at EGU for the future – have the presentations ready beforehand and authors only introduce their presentation with a few words – like this there would be a lot more time for discussions, rather than the 15 min presentation, 1 question, next talk…”
- “In a normal conference, […] you can be more a science consumer. While in the chat system you must be an active participant.”
- “Overall it was a very good chat, active (we would have needed more time as usual), and every author […] had interesting and to-the-point questions.”
- “Personally, I found it a bit difficult to catch up on all comments and to post my own at the right moment – but we will probably learn these things with time…”
- “The format does work very nicely and prior preparation is nice, but I miss the feel in the room. And while chat questions and answers are good it is not easy to get a debate.”
- “In my view, the main weakness of the format is that it provides limited “space” to enable participation of a large number of participants, especially those that may not be very fluent in typing in English and therefore may struggle keeping up with the pace of the conversation.”
- “I think we had a very interesting session this morning […], I was impressed about the engagement it created!”
- “I wish I had more time to participate this week…”
- “Thanks for all the work put into making EGU still happen.”
Behind the scenes
“EGU GA Online? Yes! Because it is EGU’s responsibility to help minimise the impact of COVID-19 on scientific research and collaboration.” (EGU Programme Committee)
Sharing Geosciences Online was a pilot experiment (feedback is welcome here). It is probably a pioneering one too for such a large conference.
When deciding to go online, the main considerations of the Programme Committee were:
- Science submitted to the General Assembly 2020 can be presented and shared;
- Sharing Geoscience Online is accessible (in terms of bandwidth, for anyone with hearing or visual impairments);
- The concept works for all presentation types: oral, poster and PICO.
Given that this was the first online General Assembly, a text-based platform was chosen, instead of audio or video calls. This choice was made to ensure that everyone could easily attend from their homes, even without high-speed internet connection.
The new concept had to be put in place in a very short time, so it was important to offer several ways for authors and conveners to show and discuss presentation materials: uploaded abstracts and presentation material; live, text-based chats during scheduled session time, and the possibility for conveners to upload session summaries. Additionally, there was videoconferencing for Union symposia and Great Debates, and a selection of the original short-course sessions offered online.
All this was prepared in less than 6 weeks:
- 16 March: EGU start developing the concept for online activities;
- 23 March: the first Sharing Geoscience Online webpages are published;
- 31 March: all presentations are turned to displays, and sessions are rescheduled to blocks of 30 displays;
- 1 April: the website is open for uploading presentation materials and commenting;
- 16 April: it is open for uploading session materials;
- 21 April: EGU publishes the ‘how-to-use-the-chat’ pages.
The overall attendance numbers are impressive
The online 2020 edition had 701 scientific sessions with 691 chat channels. It was attended by participants from all over the world: based on IP and email upon chat system registration, 134 countries could be identified.
Of around 18,000 published abstracts, more than 60% were associated with online material. The figures show that, on average, there were 6-7 logged-in attendees per presentation, on the union level as well as for the HS Division. The daily average was 8,730 users participating in the chats. More than 200,000 messages were posted. There were 26,219 individual registrations as active users in the chat system during the week. The median attendance per chat was about 90 users.
Congratulations to all SD chairs and conveners for mobilising their community in such an impressive way!
There was a very well-distributed attendance for all subdivisions (SD) of the HS Division, with the distribution of numbers of attendees per subdivision being very similar to the number of abstracts.
Of course, we all missed direct interactions with colleagues, friends, and with people we meet by chance in the elevator or while queueing for coffee. But whoever took the time to follow a live chat session certainly also discovered new research, just as if we had walked into a session room in Vienna.
And you might have experienced the unique advantage of written interaction: everyone gets a chance to ask a question and you can actually go back and read the answers!
We are sure most of you shared at least one EGU presentation you saw in one chat room with colleagues or students.
The HS Division community and HS ECSs were also virtually meeting
The annual HS Division Business was also held online during the Sharing Geoscience Online week. There were 205 connections to the meeting chat room. Not easy to chat with so many people, but it was an amazing challenge, and we found room for many people to type a few words to the community: many thanks to SD Division Chairs, ECS Rep and Elected Rep, Blog Editorial Team Coordinator, Awards and Medals Committee Chairs, ECS Awardee, HS Medallists and OSPP Awardees, and HESS Journal Editors. If you missed the news on the division, slides are provided here.
A virtual networking session for a meeting of the minds between students and early career scientists (ECSs) was also organised. It ended up with over 25 people in attendance over 9 time zones! Connections were made through ice breakers and research topic exchanges, with the promise of connection beyond EGU. More importantly, the session offered a platform for ECSs for an “in the weeds” chat about the sessions they found inspiring and how their own experiences related, particularly around career development and diversity and inclusion. Our hour-long chat went well beyond our scheduled time with ECSs sharing their tips for research and thoughts on professional development. We were also able to develop the groundwork for year-round activities to bring to the HS ECS community – so stay tuned! 😉
So, what do we take home for future (hopefully, face-to-face) editions?
The possibility to upload presentation material and to comment on it before and during the conference is certainly a unique asset that we might want to keep on a voluntary basis (it is important to keep in mind that many researchers cannot or do not want to publish work that has not yet been peer-reviewed).
Also, the possibility to participate in a discussion remotely via chat seems extremely attractive to make EGU more accessible for people who cannot join the GA physically.
All things considered, we had an active and engaging EGU week, taking the best of what was possible. The EGU community in general, and the HS Division in particular, have shown a strong sense of adaptability and resilience. That’s why we remain a community no matter how far apart we are.
And before we finish…
It is also time to say goodbye to our main EGU HS Blog Editor, Matthias Sprenger, who was our driver for getting this blog started, back to March 2019, and running since then.
Thanks to Matthias and the entire team, our relatively young blog is doing very well in terms of activity (see EGU2020 poster on EGU-wide blog statistics), but it would be great of course if we could increase somewhat our posting frequency. So do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like to contribute here!