The EGU Mentoring Program - Tips on Attending the EGU as a First-Timer

by Nick Schafstall

Attending the EGU General Assembly for the first time

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) is a union comprised of 12,500 scientists all over the world. Every year, the general assembly is organised in Vienna and is visited by a great number of people active in Geosciences. This year, a total of 15,000 people from 106 countries, promotional stands and conference staff not included, occupied the Austria Center Vienna from Sunday 7 until Friday 13 April. I was there for the first time, and as a Quaternary entomologist I felt a bit like an outsider.

The EGU offers a mentoring program to help ECRs find their bearings.

When I initially applied for the EGU I had real difficulties finding a session which could include my research. My PhD research focuses on using subfossil beetle remains to reconstruct climate and landscapes to set up baselines in questions of nature and landscape conservation. This research topic would technically fall under Biogeosciences. However, none of the session descriptions seemed relevant for my PhD research. Yet I wanted to go to the EGU, experience the ‘big conference’, meet the few friends I knew that were going, put myself out there, and see other fields in Geosciences. I decided to submit my abstract in a Natural Hazards session because my work includes quantifying bark beetle populations through time at sites in the mountains of central Europe. In a way, these forest insect pests can be regarded as a natural hazard (at least for the tree populations in mountain forests). Luckily I got accepted in one of the sessions of Natural Hazards and even received a travel grant for early-career scientists.

The mentor-mentee program

As the date of the conference drew closer, I received many emails from EGU including newsletters the size of a contract agreement. As a first-timer, I was frustrated by the fact that these emails didn’t offer any suggestions about how to plan for the conference. However, there was one email regarding the mentor-mentee program that did intrigue me. This program allows first-time attendees to meet with an experienced EGU-goer. So I registered, hoping it would lead to a good conversation with a more experienced Earth scientist who could offer advice about which sessions I should attend.

Meeting my mentor

Early Monday morning, mentors and mentees assembled for an introduction about the mentor-mentee program. Here I met Martin Maier, a soil scientist at the University of Freiburg, who was matched to be my EGU mentor. Martin attended the EGU for the seventh time and has convened his own sessions for the past four years, making him the perfect mentor for a first-time EGU-goer. In addition to chatting about his own career and about the current stage of my career and future career plans, Martin gave clear and helpful advice as to which sessions I should attend. He suggested looking for medal lectures and short courses. The speakers at the medal lectures are often interesting people and great speakers as well. Short courses cover many topics such as ‘How do you peer-review?’ or ‘How to find funding and write a research grant’, which are especially interesting for early-career researchers. Martin also suggested that I take advantage of the poster sessions because it’s a good opportunity to have a look at the quality of posters without getting distracted by the scientific content. Other advice Martin offered for first-time EGU attendees is to not get overwhelmed, an advice that was repeated by many experienced EGU-goers. Try to make time to pick out a few interesting sessions and have a look at the more general talks. With his help, I planned my program for the EGU once more and this time, quite to my satisfaction.

Mentors and mentees hang out during the ice-breaker party on Sunday 8 April, set up by the ECS committee of EGU.

My own presentation

At the last day of the conference, I gave my own presentation. As I expected, I was an outlier in the Natural Hazard session and the positive responses that I received afterwards were mostly from other paleoecologists that walked by. Again, my mentor Martin gave valuable advice about how to capture an audience that is not very familiar with your study subject, as well as comments on the quality of my presentation. At such a large conference as the EGU, Martin said it is safe to assume that many in the audience will not be familiar with your research field. Therefore, it is better to keep the amount of information in your presentation at a minimum and not to get into too much detail about your research. People who are interested will ask the questions about, for instance, your methods or that missing data point anyway.

Me presenting at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, April 2018.

Tips for EGU first-timers

While my mentor Martin gave incredible advice during the EGU, I have some impressions of my own that I’ve summarized below for first-time EGU-goers:
  • Don’t try to pack your days with semi-interesting sessions. Rather, look for a few nice presentations or medal lectures that you really want to see. Medal lectures are lectures given by early-career researchers who are chosen for extraordinary work in their field, and who often are good speakers as well. So these talks are a great way to learn something about a different topic and to pick up on presentation techniques. 
  • Spend some time before the start of the conference to find out if there will be any people at EGU whom you’d like to meet. It can be a pain to search through the huge, endless ongoing program beforehand or to put lots of people’s names in the search bar, but once you’re at the conference it will be too late as you will be overwhelmed by the number of people and sessions. 
  • There are lots of presentations and short courses organized especially for early- career researchers. These can be found under ‘Sessions of ECS interest’. Also, check out the ECS lounge where they pamper the ECRs with free coffee and drinks. 
  • When you are invited to present at a session which is (partially) outside your field, assume that your audience will be as well. Therefore you should adapt your presentation to the level of general knowledge.
  • The mentor-mentee programme of the EGU is a wonderful opportunity to have in-depth conversations about the EGU, your current career stage and geosciences with an experienced researcher outside your field. This was my most valuable experience during the EGU.

If you are thinking about going to the EGU General Assembly but are not sure if you would fit in this conference, don’t hesitate. As long as you don’t get overwhelmed and prepare well, you can reach all your goals and have a great time. The mentor-mentee program is a wonderful asset of the EGU and I would recommend any first-timer to sign up for the program.

by Nick Schafstall
Department of Forest Ecology, Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Czech Republic

If you have questions or comments concerning Nick's post, please leave a comment below, or send him an email. You can also connect with him on Twitter or ResearchGate.


  1. How can I learn more about the mentoring program. Plus I hope the program would consider dropping the term "mentee," and instead use the terms "learning partner" or "mentoring partner." These terms more accurately reflect the quality of the relationship and also more accurately create expectations for outcomes.

    1. Haha I guess you're right, being an ECR is already challenging enough let alone to be a mentee :)

      I found that almost every large society and congress has activities planned for ECRs, you just have to search for them. To consider, in my opinion the ECR activities the web pages of the EGU were somewhat hidden. As I'm using the terms ECR, I first overlooked the little tab which says 'ECS'. I've looked again and couldn't find an announcement about the mentor program on the EGU2018 website. It's just the newsletter that I received as a participant.

  2. What a useful article! Sounds like you had very similar experiences to how I feel even at mid-sized conferences that don't have a strong palaeoenvironmental focus. I particularly like the tip to look at the posters from quality rather than scientific content per se! I imagine that would be a great way to give your brain a break whilst still taking something very valuable from the session.

    1. Thank you, Georgy. I'm happy that you like it. Yes, it was an eye opener for me to really distinguish between conferences/sessions within ones expertise and outside of the expertise and adopt strategies for it :)


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