After two years of a pandemic-induced, online-only format, the General Assembly of the EGU was back in Vienna – with a twist.
While thousands of scientists assembled in the Vienna International Center for stimulating discussions and sociable networking events, those who couldn’t come in person had the opportunity to attend remotely. It was the first EGU assembly to be held in this format. In total, 7,315 scientists from 89 countries made the pilgrimage to Vienna and 7,002 colleagues from 116 participated virtually.
As an early career-scientist, I was thrilled to travel to Vienna to attend in person. Since the start of my PhD in late 2018, it has been an aspiration of mine to join the event and present my work. The reason? I studied in Vienna for my MSc in Civil Engineering – and every year there was a week in April or May when many of our professors would mysteriously vanish off the face of the earth.
Unfortunately, the pandemic put that plan – like so many others – on hiatus. Joining the conference virtually in 2020 and 2021 was thrilling, if exhausting. But I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to meet the people whose faces I’d seen in tiny Zoom squares and whose usernames I knew intimately.
The actual experience wildly exceeded my expectations
Mingling with the EGU crowd proved to be immersive and a rollercoaster ride between scientific fields and specialisations. I got the chance to make the personal acquaintance of other early career scientists – who make up over 60% of EGU! – not just in my own discipline, but also in others.
Especially ECS events organised by representatives from different divisions were an opportunity to meet people working on completely different research subjects. These events dealt with topics that loom over any early career scientist’s head – from how to find funding to how to navigate EGU. They were also extremely well-attended, with people sitting on the floors and spilling over into the corridors.
Another thing I underestimated – probably like most other early career scientists raised on a diet of online conferences – was the sheer level of spontaneity that comes with being at an in-person event. You meet interesting people. They tell you about their presentations, sessions that interest them, networking events in the evening – and suddenly you have a lot of new plans for your day.
Still, experiencing the EGU in a hybrid format turned out to be interesting in its own right. Most sessions were a balanced mix of in-person and online presentations. Virtual presentations were either shown live or pre-recorded. Of course, there were some technical difficulties. In one memorable session, two people presented at the same time – one online, one in person. Overall, though, the conference assistants and conveners had a good handle on the technical complexity.
The virtue of the EGU’s new hybrid format was hotly debated
Undeniably, the option to attend virtually was a fantastic opportunity for researchers who couldn’t attend in person due to travel restrictions, funding issues, or personal reasons. That was illustrated by the huge diversity of the countries online attendees hailed from. On the other hand, many thought that the possibility to attend online disincentivized personal attendance, especially by senior scientists who might not be as ready to travel.
Another hot topic over coffee, Sachertorte (and later in the evening Grüner Veltliner and Wiener Schnitzel) was the absence of poster presentations, and the format of short oral presentations adopted instead. Some thought it was a much-needed baby-bird push for early career scientists to step in front of their communities and present their work. Others felt that, as a result of the universal short-presentation format, many talks lacked substance.
As an early career scientist who never attended a pre-pandemic, in-person EGU general assembly, it was hard to join either side of these arguments. One thing I was sure of, though: This year’s EGU far outstripped the virtual-only experience of the last two years.
And if the hybrid format can open up opportunities for researchers who’d otherwise stay barred from the event, then it very likely offers the best of both worlds to our community.
Did you attend the EGU in person or virtually? Share your thoughts about the conference in general and the hybrid format in particular here: egu22.eu/feedback