Pilgrimage to AGU Fall Meeting

It was my fourth time. It has always been in San Francisco. About 20,000 scientists and researchers assemble here every year. For many, it could be their first experience. And for a few, it could also be their silver jubilee. I went there for the first time in 2011 when I was doing my Master’s degree in Abu Dhabi. Now I am doing PhD at UT-Austin and still going every year. It is our pilgrimage.

A view of the poster hall.

It is our Hollywood too. We meet our celebrities here. Our celebrity is not Obama. Not Trump either. Not even Miley Cyrus. Our celebrities are those who have at least a few thousands citations of their paper. Whose papers we often cite. Many of them are known as “AGU Fellows”.

AGU has intruded my life in even more ways. Most of my journal articles published or under review are in AGU Journals: JGR atmosphere, JGR Earth Surface, and GRL. I also get peer-review request from these journals.

For the first time, I was given a poster. For the second time, I was given an oral talk and I was so proud of it. But now I requested for poster when I submitted my abstract. For students, it is more important to get feedback and poster sessions are much better than oral sessions. Oral talks might be better for professionals or late career researchers who need to showcase their works and advertise their labs.

It is customary for us to attend celebrity talks or invited talks that usually happen in oral sessions. The picture that we create in our mind of our celebrities, after reading their numerous papers, often do not match in person. After seeing them more often, we realize that they are common beings who were also graduate students like us at some point.

We can also learn something new in general oral sessions. I knew about Google Earth Engine for the first time in a general oral session. Although Google Earth Engine has not been commonly used until now, it has the potential to become a one-stop shop for satellite data in the future. There are also some interesting talks by highly successful people in the general sessions. This year, Elon Musk gave a featured talk whose company SpaceX successfully landed a re-usable rocket for the first time in history few days ago.

Life of a graduate student is full of free stuff. Many of us go to the conference just to enjoy free beers. In campus, we only get free foods not beers. Every afternoon, some good beers are served during the conference. Many people ask for two glasses at once because the queue is usually serpentine.

Another reason to go to the conference is the free stuff given by the Exhibitors. Some of the stuff such as USB drives, umbrellas, and NASA bags are something we can’t help but pick. I always pick a stress ball although I have never actually used it for its intended purpose.

In the conference we also see many people that we knew by name but never met before. I have seen some people whose paper I had reviewed. I have also met an editor who had edited my paper. One person was asking me critical questions during my poster session and I suspected him to be the reviewer of one of my under-review article. Peer-review is an anonymous process but only one-way. Sometimes, we also meet some arrogant people who believe that they are the only researchers doing good science.

It feels so bad when your poster is visited only by your colleagues. You feel worse when the poster next to you is crowded but you wait for someone to visit your poster. This time I tried to publicize my poster by using my mediocre marketing skills. All I did was I distributed numerous copies of my poster when I visited other posters during earlier sessions. It was a success, more or less.

The conference is a good place for job search especially for those folks who are graduating soon. A random encounter with a Professor or a professional can lead to a job and is sometimes more effective than applying online countless times. And we never know when and in what way a contact that we make today will be useful in the future.

For the first time, I had to wait a few hours to get the registration badge. This time, the wait was less than one minute. The book of abstracts was also given only to those who wanted it. The android application of AGU Fall Meeting was not working this year although it was working fine last year. Technology has certainly made our life easy. We can upload our posters and slides online now. But I hope this conference won’t turn into a virtual conference in the future because of this fast-growing technology.

We also get to see our school buddies there. Last year and this year, I met one of my best college buddy, who has already become an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University. Last time we had met in Nepal, I don’t remember when, but we were both unmarried.

Me with my best buddy, my college friend Yadu Pokhrel.

AGU is also an excuse for us to travel and have some fun because it happens at the end of the fall semester. I took my wife last year and went to Los Angeles. Driving along the Pacific Coast while going to Los Angeles has been one of my best life experience. Now I already have a plan to take my daughter to the Disney Land in the future.

Me, my wife, my best buddy and his wife (not in order).

There have been very few unpleasant experiences to me in San Francisco. The hotels are expensive during the time. We had to pay $300 for a two-star hotel this time. The streets are crowded. It is unfortunate to see so many homeless people in the streets of such a thriving city.

No doubt transportation is a pain in San Francisco. But it was surprising to me that there were so many electric buses and trains in San Francisco given some of the largest crude oil and natural gas reserves located in California. California has a plan to obtain at least 33% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Enjoying some crabs and draught beer on Pier-39.

Pier-39 is a must-have experience for some crabs and draught beers. But the chilling winds there can destroy the fun sometimes. The Aquarium located here is also worth watching although a bit expensive for graduate students. The best thing I like about San Francisco is its central location. Both heaven (San Diego) and hell (Las Vegas) are very close from here.

We spend longer time waiting than actually flying in our life. My flight to San Francisco this time was delayed because of bad weather. Traveling has never been a pleasant experience for me except when I flew for the first time in my life and when I got a free Business class pass in Abu Dhabi. This time I was stuck in the last row of a small plane for those four hours. I thought I really needed to practice some Yoga postures for these kind of situations. The only good thing being in the last row was that the restroom was next to it.

I don’t know yet whether this pilgrimage has helped me to experience the god of my research. But I know that I will be going there next year as well.


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