Attendees at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting chat in a hallway of Moscone West.
Attendees at the 2015 AGU Fall Meeting chat in a hallway of Moscone West. Credit: Karna Kurata

Next week will be the 49th time that the American Geophysical Union (AGU) will host its annual Fall Meeting, and pulling it off has become a management art form.

More than 24,000 people are expected to attend the conference next week in San Francisco, a grand event with lots of moving parts. Planning began many months ago, when reservations were secured for the event spaces as well as for accommodations for attendees and when speakers who will be educating and entertaining those attendees were chosen. Now, AGU is working on the final details.

Checking and Rechecking

Even the smallest minutia must be planned.

I recently joined AGU as an intern at the association’s headquarters in Washington, D. C., working for the Education group in AGU’s Science Department. It and every other department of the organization shoulder enormous responsibility preparing for our collective Fall Meeting. Even the smallest minutia must be planned: What time will the food need to be set? How many microphones are needed for the speakers? How many pitchers of water for the students? These things must be thought about, planned, checked, and rechecked, so that everyone who attends will have a pleasant and productive time.

Weekly meetings take place to make sure all AGU staff members are up-to-date. One committee devotes its efforts just to bringing staff across the country. Countless digital platforms assist our departments.

For every one of the hundreds of events at the meeting, staff members prepare a “function form”: a digital document that maps out everything needed to hold the event in a space, from the start time to the seating arrangements. Staffers review those forms repeatedly as they submit them to various vendors, striving not to forget or wrongly enter any specifications. They even conduct signage meetings to ensure that every workshop or event will have an advertisement in the meeting program and a sign out front so that attendees can navigate the venues smoothly. Small things like these might sound trivial to an outsider, but they are important to AGU!

It Has Been an Education

Our Education group alone oversees 25 events, and with those I’ve become intimately familiar. They range from the meeting’s Public Lecture, expected to draw hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area residents, to the more intimate Heads and Chairs breakfast where academics will converse over muffins and coffee. I’ve found it gratifying to work as an intern during this year’s Fall Meeting preparation, from which I learned so much about how an organization plans and organizes events, whether through conference calls, small group meetings, or large staff gatherings.

I see a beehive of hard-working people paying attention to countless details.

To me, the way that AGU puts together its Fall Meeting serves as a fantastic metaphor for how the whole organization operates. An outside observer sees a cohesive, flawless, and seamlessly put-together organization. From the inside, I see a beehive of hard-working people paying attention to countless details to ensure that countless tasks get done right, every day. The results? Just to mention a few, tweets are released on time, newsletters get sent to the right people on updated lists, and those we work with are kept up-to-date on all the programs they participate in.

We at AGU hope that all our members attending Fall Meeting have an incredible time, but we also hope you can take a moment to think about what goes on behind the scenes and to appreciate the hard work from so many that leads to such a wonderful event.

—Lauren Thronson (email:, Education and Public Outreach Intern, AGU


Thronson, L. (2016), The mechanics behind Fall Meeting, Eos, 97, Published on 06 December 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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