A few weeks ago, I attended the 2020 Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California. The biennial Ocean Sciences Meeting is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS) and brings together scientists from all ocean science disciplines from around the world to discuss all aspects of oceanography. This year, more than 6,300 scientists from 66 different countries traveled to attend the meeting.
This year’s theme, ‘For a Resilient Planet’, was centered around the concept that scientists, in partnership with governments and communities, have the power to affect change in fostering healthier and more resilient oceans, a safer and sustainable food supply, and mitigating the impacts of climate change. The meeting started with an opening plenary by Nainoa Thompson, President of a non-profit research and educational organization, Polynesian Voyaging Society. Nainoa talked about his recent four-year open-ocean voyage on a traditional double-hulled canoe where he and his crew highlighted the importance of ocean resources, cultural legacies, and protection of these critical places for the future.
The week-long meeting was comprised of diverse ocean science topic areas spanning marine microbiology, geology, biological and physical oceanography, ocean modeling, and more. There were four types of session formats in which researchers could present: poster, oral, panel, and eLightning.
- More than 3,000 posters were hung up throughout a large poster hall. Every presenter was scheduled a two-hour time slot to stand by and present their research. Most posters were displayed for the duration of the meeting. In between sessions, I enjoyed scanning and learning about the different research presented on the posters.
- Two-hour oral sessions occurred concurrently throughout the week. Typically, an oral session was comprised of eight 15-minute talks that related to the oral session topic. Because so many talks occured at the same time, planning your schedule ahead of time was necessary.
- Panel sessions were comprised of two-hour sessions that consisted of up to eight individuals who responded to questions from a moderator and the audience.
- A new hybrid format called eLightning consisted of two-hour session blocks made up of lively three-minute oral presentations paired with digital, interactive poster presentations on a touchscreen. eLightning presentations were engaging experiences with the ability to incorporate videos, audio recordings, and in-depth discussions. Presentations can be viewed in an online gallery.
The meeting also included other sessions such as Town Halls, workshops, committee meetings, and social events throughout the week. I attended a workshop on science communication which provided useful tips on how to effectively incorporate social media and develop powerful messages that can reach different audiences. I also attended the Icebreaker Reception, Student Mixer, and a Society for Women in Marine Science (SWMS) meetup.
I attended two science plenaries by Dr. Heidi Sosik, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and Erik van Sebille, physical oceanographer at Utrecht University located in the Netherlands. Sosik discussed her novel research in automatic underwater analyzers that has revolutionized the way researchers study phytoplankton. Sebille discussed how he is using ocean current models to track and predict marine plastic pollution in our oceans.
Many faculty and graduate students from University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science attended and presented their research. I also met up with some people I went to college with, and saw some from my Master’s program. It was great to see so many of my past and current colleagues together in one place.
I’ve been to a few conferences before this one, but Ocean Sciences has been the largest. I’ve solicited some advice from peers and advisors and have come up with a few tips to follow when attending a conference:
- View the program beforehand. Take some time to learn what session topics are being offered and when. Larger conferences usually have a downloadable app that makes it easy to view and customize a schedule. You will save yourself time by planning ahead and will be less overwhelmed during the conference.
- My advisor Greg Silsbe gave me this advice before we left. Don’t try to attend every single presentation that relates to your research. Go to several you know will be beneficial to your research or career, but also go to some that are unrelated. It’s a good way to stay up to date with other research fields and could lead to new ideas for your own.
- UMCES PhD student Hadley McIntosh gave me this advice: After you receive or exchange business cards, jot down a couple main takeaways from the conversation on the back. You’re most likely not going to remember every conversation you have with every person you talk to throughout a conference but jotting down notes will help you remember what you discussed afterwards.
- Take some time to enjoy where you are! If you’re attending a conference in a new area, go explore. Try to get there a day early or stay a couple days later. Ask for meal or activity recommendations from someone who has been there before. If possible, try to travel and lodge with friends. It’s technically a work conference, but that doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in some vacation days or fun activities!
- Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Maybe you recognize a name of someone who authored a paper you’ve read. Or maybe you attended a talk by someone that led to new ideas or questions you want to discuss. Conferences are where you meet people and put a face to a name. If you feel intimidated introducing yourself in front of other people, shoot them an email asking to meet one on one. If it was a valuable conversation, try to follow up with an email when you get back to further the conversation and connection you made.
All in all, the Ocean Sciences meeting provided a surplus of information that spurred new questions, ideas, and inspiration for my research. I made many valuable connections and enjoyed meeting people in person that I have read about. I had a blast travelling and staying in an AirBnB in downtown San Diego with four other graduate students and loved exploring a new place. I’m hoping to attend again in two years in Honolulu, Hawaii!