The Coffee Crusade

This week I’m at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. The AGU Fall meeting happens every year at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, probably because it’s one of the only conference centers in the country with the capacity to house a conference so big. More than 25,000 people attend every year, primarily geoscientists, but also journalists, educators, and folks in related field of private industry.

Below is a small subset of the AGU population in part of the poster hall. The conference consists of a few football fields of posters, fresh daily, plus roughly 100 rooms where 10 to 60 minute talks are occurring basically nonstop between 8am and 6pm Monday through Friday. Posters and talks are an attraction at AGU, but networking with colleagues and collaborators is another great reason to go and often fills the in-between meals and breaks. It’s a busy week for sure.

I’ve been to AGU for 4 years now and I think I get better at handling the madness every year. First comes the pre-AGU poster-making madness. Three out of the four years I’ve attended, I presented a research poster detailing the latest in my progress. This year, my poster presentation is this morning, so I might be standing by my poster as you’re reading this. The work I prepared this year is the seed of my PhD project and has to do with combining uncertainty in age and depth observations at the Byrd ice core in West Antarctica. The goal here is to get a picture of uncertainty in the age and depth of ice layers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The layers deform as the ice sheet flows and so they preserve the flow history of the ice. But as always, they’re only as useful as the uncertainty allows. Below is my poster this year. Perhaps another time I’ll describe it in more detail, but this is generally what a research poster may look like.


Creating posters always takes longer than I expect and in the end it’s a lot of hard work. I always like to have my latest and best work on posters, which means they almost always are a last-minute project. They’re good because you get to present work in an environment where others can visit and engage you on the work, so it’s easy to get feedback from people who are interested. I also have a fondness for deadlines because they always seem to boost my productivity as they get closer. The week before AGU usually includes a lot of 2am nights at work, but I’m usually not the only one pulling extra hours to finish poster and oral presentations ahead of the meeting. It’s like a science sleepover!

Once the poster is printed, I put it in a poster tube and carry it with me on the plane to San Francisco. This year I’m rooming with another grad student in the Marines Memorial Hotel, where Brian and I stayed when we arrived in San Fran after our cross-country roadtrip. We’ve been impressed by the hotel, which includes free wifi, breakfast, and happy hour while having one of the lower nightly rates we found.

Sunday night before the meeting starts, I finally spend some time going through the meeting program to figure out the elaborate schedule of talks and posters that I’ll attend during the week. With 25,000 people in attendance, you can imagine how many presentations there are to look through. Thankfully, it’s all online. I usually search for colleagues or topics of interest. Then I go through the sessions broadly related to my work — cryospheric science, paleoclimate, uncertainty quantification — to see if I missed anything. It takes about two passes through this process to get a working itinerary, since there are usually time conflicts between things I’m interested in. So I go back through  a second time and decide between overlapping presentations. Of course, the last step is to talk to others and see what their itinerary looks like, which usually reveals even more interesting things I missed the first two times through. AGU can be very overwhelming!

In an effort to increase my mental acuity this week (and every week) I’ve embarked on a coffee crusade. I’ve never liked coffee. In fact, I dislike it enough that I never drank it, even in desperate times. But in recent weeks, especially as AGU approached, I realized that drinking coffee could probably increase my quality of life, by contributing to my focus and productivity. So, I’m deliberately training myself to drink coffee (and maybe even enjoy it). The project technically began the day before Thanksgiving, when Brian suggested an eggnog latte from Starbucks to ease myself in. I approve of anything having to do with eggnog. A week later in Austin, I opted for a peppermint mocha at Starbucks, still heavily flavored, but another battle won in my Coffee Crusade.

The day I arrived for AGU, Brian and I went to Peet’s Coffee where I got a caramel and salt mocha. The crusade continued. Unfortunately, AGU itself was a step up to “real” coffee, of the sugar and cream variety rather than with elaborate flavoring. That’s when the crusade got real. Everyone I talked to described their introduction to coffee the same way: as a gradual transition to more coffee and less additives. In addition to being limited on deliciousness, I knew I had to gradually start increasing the amount of actual coffee in my cup. But what better time to start with coffee than with a week-long science marathon?

And so I joined the throngs of coffee drinkers over breakfast, breaks, and after dinner. The beginning of the week started out with a lot of creamer and sugar and not a lot of coffee. As the week went on, I’ve been gradually increasing the amount of coffee and decreasing the amount of milk. But it turns out that 4 days isn’t enough adjustment time to get me to give up the sugar. I’m honestly curious if I’ll ever get to the point of enjoying black coffee. In the meantime, the Coffee Crusade continues.

4 thoughts on “The Coffee Crusade

  1. Fascinating poster and registration process. Must feel overwhelming at times! As a long time coffee drinker may I suggest that when going to unflavored coffees (I drink mine black) you avoid Starbucks and try Dunkin donuts or Eight O’Clock coffee brands? Pets and Seattles Best are also pretty good. Good luck!


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