Tales from the European Geosciences Conference

Hannah Rogers, a geophyisics PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, talks to us about her experience of this year’s EGU conference.

What is the EGU conference?

Last week, geoscientists from around the world gathered online for the largest European Earth-Science related conference, organised by the European Geosciences Union, or EGU. Geoscientists include anyone who studies an aspect of how the Earth works, and they attend the conference to discuss new discoveries, promote their work, gain training and consider current world issues that affect Earth science (e.g. how will Covid change how geoscience research is done in the future?).

So, it’s just geography, right?

It’s a bit more than the geography you learn at school…. Some of the topics are similar to what you might study in geography class (volcanoes, glaciers, weather systems, climate change), but geoscience is a truly interdisciplinary field that crosses a wide variety of subjects. For instance, would you get to listen to NASA talk about the latest Mars mission in geography? Or think about what soil can tell us about the world thousands of years ago? Plus, there’s palaeontology, robotics, atomic particles from the sun, avalanches, what’s in the Earth’s core, improving food availability…. The list goes on! It is a truly varied conference covering anything and everything to do with Earth!

As a scientist, why do you attend conferences?

I go to conferences because I learn so much from sharing my science with other researchers and hearing about what else is happening in other universities. I like EGU because it gives me the chance to speak to scientists from a range of backgrounds. I can discuss my research interests with people who are looking at the same scientific problems from different viewpoints. For instance, I use the Earth’s magnetic field to study the Earth’s core. At EGU I also get to speak to:

  • Other geomagnetists, who look at the Earth’s magnetic field
  • Chemists, who try to recreate the conditions in the core using lab equipment
  • Seismologists, who use large earthquakes to study the Earth’s core
  • Geodynamicists, who use numerical models to study how liquid moves in the core
  • And so many more!

No one can be an expert in every aspect of their field, so we get the chance to learn together at conferences.

What is something I wouldn’t expect to happen at a scientific conference?

EGU always has an ‘artist-in-residence’ to try to make complicated science more approachable to the general public. What is the point of doing science if we cannot educate others about how it will impact them? One of this year’s artists (Stacy Phillips) is recreating scientific projects using only Lego! You can find out more from her twitter profile – @Shtacy_Phillips

How does this year’s virtual EGU compare with in-person conferences?

While Covid is restricting travel, online conferences are one of the best ways to communicate your science. Online conferences are cheaper (no travel or accommodation costs) and you can work from home around other commitments, allowing more people to attend. Virtual conferences don’t require hundreds of delegates to fly around the world, greatly reducing our carbon footprint. You can still have discussions and learn a lot from listening to talks and reading posters, but virtual conferences aren’t ideal.

Trying to concentrate on a screen all day is hard. Internet problems and technical difficulties can interrupt talks. Time zone differences mean some scientists must present their work in the middle of their night. And missing out on informal conversations means you don’t know the community as well.

One of the best things about doing a PhD is the opportunity to meet new people and travel to new places. EGU is usually held in Vienna, Austria, and I was lucky enough to attend 3 years ago. I definitely miss the 30-degree sunshine, free food and amazing city! I can’t wait to go back when EGU returns to Vienna.

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Twitter: @Hannah_Rogers94