The Ocean Sciences Meeting poster hall with 2,300 science posters. Photo: Kerstin Bergentz

Presentations, Poster Sessions and Puppies

An insider shares what goes on at an ocean science conference

Every other year in February, the world of oceanography descends upon a conference center somewhere in the world to talk science, showcase innovations and network. It is a chance to see and be seen with the who's who in every branch of the field from ocean modeling to biophysical interactions to small-scale processes in the deep ocean. 

Over the course of a week, there will be workshops, talks and poster sessions on everything from how to communicate your research on social media to diversity efforts in the field, and of course, a ton of fascinating new research happening. This is a report of what it’s like to spend a week with almost 6,000 other ocean enthusiasts from more than 60 different countries along with some insider tips for how to make it out the other side alive, and hopefully be a little better off for it. 

The 2024 Ocean Sciences Meeting took place in New Orleans during the third week of February. This was the first time in four years that this conference was held in person since the 2022 meeting that was supposed to be in Hawaii was moved online. For a lot of young people in the field (the author included), this was their first in-person conference experience. After months of planning and preparation, abstract writing, and presentation-making, you at last get to hop on a plane and that’s when it really begins. The people carrying three-foot-long poster tubes they’re trying to squeeze into the overhead bins on the plane exchange a look of mutual understanding. And that person two rows ahead of you looks awfully familiar. Haven’t you seen them on Zoom somewhere? Didn’t you cite them for that paper you’re writing?

Graduate students Shailja Gangrade and Rob Lampe together with Scripps Oceanography staff Leslie Costi and Canon Purdy manage the Scripps booth at OSM in New Orleans. Photo: Kerstin Bergentz
Graduate students Shailja Gangrade and Rob Lampe together with Scripps Oceanography staff Leslie Costi and Canon Purdy manage the Scripps booth at OSM in New Orleans. Photo: Kerstin Bergentz

Walking through any room in the conference center is a continuous experience of recognizing a face or a name on a badge. After a few years of online school and the last Ocean Sciences Meeting being remote, that feeling of connection is much needed. Oceanographers are humans, just like everyone else, and there is probably just as much insight and new science being sparked in the coffee break, at the trivia night, group dinner, conference jam session, or after-work rooftop bar hang as in any of the formal scientific sessions.

Rubbing shoulders with thousands of other people studying and working with the ocean is both incredibly exciting and quite overwhelming. One quickly realizes that the degree of separation between any two random people in the crowd is probably at most two. Someone worked with someone who was an advisor to someone in your circle and tadaa! Now you have something to talk about. And there is a lot of talking. Upwards of 60 oral sessions every day with six to ten people presenting their work in eight to 12 minutes (that’s about 2,300 scientific presentations in a week!). Almost fifty different workshops, two daily coffee breaks, and three dozen exhibit booths with people who are eager to have your attention. If it all gets a little too much, there is a “silent room” in which you can take a break. Oh, and a puppy play station in the exhibit hall. Yes, you read that right, the NOLA animal rescue centers Take Paws Rescue and Adopt My NOLA Paws brought in several litters of puppies to cuddle, and all were up for adoption.

Puppies provide an alternative activity at Ocean Sciences Meeting. Photo: Kerstin Bergentz
The Puppy Play Zone booth at Ocean Sciences Meeting hosted by Take Paws Rescue and Adopt My NOLA Paws. Photo: Kerstin Bergentz

Now, even if you don’t go to a conference and come back with a puppy, there are many other takeaways for a first-time Ocean Sciences Meeting attendee, beyond hearing about new oceanographic research. Here are some tips from someone who just wrapped up their first in-person conference:

Wear good shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking between sessions, posters, coffee, and lunch and few things can put as much of a damper on the mood as a blister. And if you happen to be at a conference in New Orleans in particular, you’ll definitely want to be ready for that post-poster-session dance session in a jazz bar.

Hone your message. It’s impossible to fit all the work you’ve done on a three-by-four feet piece of paper or a 10-minute talk, and there is a real attention fatigue that kicks in after hearing too many science spiels in a very short amount of time. Less is more and having a one or two-sentence takeaway message is essential if you want anyone to remember what you’ve been talking about.

Quality over quantity. Even though it’s tempting to attend every single session, talk, workshop, or town hall that sounds interesting (all of them do!), you will eventually reach a point of saturation where you can’t take in any more science. It is easy to believe that you have to socialize at every dinner, mixer, or coffee break, especially if you’re a grad student thinking about finding a postdoc or a professor looking for new collaborators. But it is important to remember the old trope “quality over quantity,” and to make sure you take some rest and recover so that you can show up as the best version of yourself.

So, what remains? Murray Levine, an Ocean Sciences Meeting legend, said that being at one is to experience a “beautiful torrent of science.” This first-timer can testify to that being an accurate description. But when the dust settles and the convention center fills up with another crowd of scientists (or maybe car manufacturers, educators, or hydroponic farming enthusiasts), and when the last poster tube is squeezed into an overhead bin on a flight leaving NOLA, what remains are perhaps a few blisters, but also the pride of having stood up in front of a big crowd to speak and the memories made with old and new friends. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, there is a renewed sense of connection with your colleagues across the world and a reinvigorated enthusiasm for rolling up one’s sleeves and getting on with much-needed research on our planet and oceans.


Kerstin Bergentz is a fourth-year graduate student in the Multiscale Ocean Dynamics lab and the Lagrangian Drifter Lab working with dynamics in the upper ocean, air-sea interactions, energy transfers, and various types of waves.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.