Denis-Didier Rousseau, senior research scientist at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), École Normale Supérieure (ENS), has been reappointed chair of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, and his term will extend through the 2019 Fall Meeting. Denis began his first term as Program Committee chair, Fall Meeting, in 2014.
The 2017 AGU Fall Meeting in New Orleans is approaching quickly: The deadline for abstract submissions is 2 August. We sat down with Denis to find out his thoughts on these past 3 years and to learn what he and his committee have in store for this year’s Fall Meeting and beyond. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.
AGU: What has the Program Committee accomplished during your previous term?
Rousseau: I was the only non-U.S. scientist applying for the 2014 appointment, and I had some apprehension about the review process. However, AGU followed a very coherent, fair, and professional call for candidates and selection process for the Program Committee chair.
Once I was appointed, I was given carte blanche to develop the project I had proposed in my application. My proposal was in line with AGU strategy, and I received ample support from the Program Committee and AGU leadership and staff in carrying out my ideas. I wanted to introduce new session formats, get more transdisciplinarity, and involve disciplines that had been less represented at the Fall Meeting.
I wanted all our fellow committee volunteers to feel comfortable, listened to, and truly part of the whole process. We succeeded in making the Fall Meeting Program Committee a real team effort. For example, we now schedule a group outing to watch a baseball game each year during the committee’s September scheduling meeting. This gives us a break from the section and focus group contingencies, where we can express our enthusiasm in a different environment.
Another change was our introduction of new session formats into the main program after they were successfully tested at the section or focus group level: the new “Great Debate” Union session, for example. AGU showed its support for the next generation of scientists with the “New Generation of Scientists” Union session, which we also introduced.
We introduced a virtual program, now called On-Demand, that allows anyone to register for access to selected Fall Meeting sessions from anywhere via live streaming or on-demand services. The current version of this program is more selective, streaming sessions closely aligned with AGU fields to make the program more attractive to viewers.
Although these changes occasionally generated some logistical problems, the AGU Meetings staff was remarkably adaptive in solving them. I made myself available as much as possible, involving myself in most of the processes affecting the Fall Meeting. Putting the meeting together is a gigantic puzzle: The scientific program is an important piece, but not the only one.
Response to the new session formats and the organizational improvements has been very positive; my colleagues appreciate the scientific quality in what remains the biggest meeting in our field. Also, more and more high-level VIPs are accepting our invitations to deliver stimulating and enthusiastic lectures at Fall Meetings.
So many good friends told me that I was crazy to apply for such a duty. They could have been right, and this is perhaps why I applied for reappointment.
AGU: What do you expect to accomplish in the next term? What ideas do you have for Fall Meeting in the future?
Rousseau: I want to continue introducing new session formats, especially for the poster sessions. Even though this meeting is a gigantic endeavor, I want it to seem like a small village, fostering opportunities for attendees to speak and exchange together.
The meeting is in a transition phase: We are meeting in the larger convention centers in New Orleans and Washington, D. C., during the expansion and renovation of our traditional meeting site at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. After returning to an expanded Moscone Center, we will be well situated to propose a different organization of the meeting for the years to come. New technologies could help the transition, and I am delighted that the AGU Meetings staff is considering the investment.
My term is ending with the celebration of the AGU Centennial in 2019, and I am planning already for a grand “fireworks” celebration. In addition to what the dedicated Centennial task force has already scheduled, we want the scientific program to assemble the largest community of Earth and Space sciences.
Because I’ve had a lot of freedom to implement my ideas, I don’t want to anticipate what my successor will propose and implement. However, we must maintain our commitment to the Fall Meeting so that it remains the place to be for the upcoming generations, because this is our home.
AGU: What aspects of the 2017 Fall Meeting most excite you?
Rousseau: We will have to adapt to our new meeting facilities in New Orleans (and next year’s location in Washington, D. C.) in a very short time. Although more space will be available in New Orleans, this does not mean more rooms for sessions.
However, more space makes it easier to implement the minilounges that we call “pods,” which the AGU staff successfully introduced in San Francisco. Conveners can meet with interested participants in pods after their sessions. Attendees can gather in the pods to exchange ideas and brainstorm collaborative endeavors, adding to the “small village” aspect of this big meeting.
We will also experiment with the poster sessions, organizing the poster hall as a journey of scientific discovery, from “deep Earth” to “farthest space.” In addition to an improved version of last year’s “lightning” poster presentations, we will test a new format this year: iPosters, presented on dedicated large monitors.
Following last year’s experiment, I am working on implementing a complementary program with more sessions oriented toward public policy, from the present AGU Policy Action Center initiative. We cannot ignore political changes occurring in the United States and worldwide, and this important topic deserves visibility at the Fall Meeting. My colleagues and I are apprehensive about this U.S. administration, which plans to reduce research funding and has appointed science skeptics to key positions. This important topic deserves visibility at the Fall Meeting. We are not only scientists but also citizens, so I think that nowadays resisting is part of our duty.
AGU: What does Fall Meeting mean to you as an attendee?
Rousseau: The Fall Meeting is the biggest meeting worldwide in my field and the main opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world. For me, the meeting really starts in the plane flying in from abroad, where I have plenty of time for discussion with colleagues in an environment with no telephone and no internet. The Fall Meeting is also the place where I present my research, where I position my research within the state of the art in my field.
Fall Meeting is also an excellent opportunity to learn quite quickly about numerous fields. The development of more transdisciplinarity in the program creates a true brainstorming environment from which amazing ideas emerge.
The special lectures are a source of inspiration. The careful selection of the speakers in past years has made these lectures an event within the event, complementing nicely the Union session program.
AGU: How will the change of venue for Fall Meeting affect the science and attendance?
Rousseau: The change of venue shouldn’t affect the science because we perform the science in our labs. However, the different space configuration will allow implementing new session formats. The New Orleans region is affected by different natural hazards than those that affect California, and session proposals could relate more to the Gulf Coast region, as well as having global relevance.
Although many of us love San Francisco, the relocation to New Orleans should be interesting or even exciting. I’m keen to discover how my native French language is spoken in New Orleans, and the distinctive cuisine should attract our attendees.
Flying to New Orleans can be more complicated for foreigners than flying to San Francisco, but I hope that this does not significantly affect attendance. I think that attending the Fall Meeting in a new environment, with more space, in a city well known for welcoming visitors will be a great experience.
AGU: What are your other thoughts regarding the Fall Meeting and your reappointment as Fall Meeting Chair?
Rousseau: To me, the Fall Meeting program chairmanship is not an honorary position, but a great chance to make something amazing happen. This is a team effort, and the first key job is to build the necessary team spirit among science representatives of sections, the focus groups, and AGU staff.
Many applicants responded to the public call for a program chair this year, and I didn’t receive any privileged treatment, even though I was the outgoing chair. When I received the good news of my reappointment, I felt very honored that AGU and my peers were satisfied with my previous chairmanship and my work.
I am modestly proud to remain the first non-U.S. scientist in charge of the biggest meeting in our field and also the first to be reappointed. I want to recognize the sacrifices my wife and daughters have made to support me in this effort. My frequent travel has left me with less time to spend at home with my family, but they know that this effort is important to me.
Crazy, as my friends said? Certainly not! Rather, I am passionate, something I don’t consider exceptional. I do my duty, like others who contribute to our science in many ways.
The Fall Meeting allows me to work and collaborate with remarkably nice, efficient, dedicated, and fantastic colleagues: the scientists and AGU staff. I sincerely recommend this experience to my young AGU fellows. The Fall Meeting requires a lot of work and dedication, a lot of organization, but more sincerely, a lot of fun, especially by working for my community.
—Nicole Oliphant, AGU Manager, Scientific Programs, Meetings