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Is this how we’ll meet at conferences in the future?


Yet few could imagine the Covid-19 pandemic, and its immediate impact; overnight, conferences were cancelled or moved online as scientists were required to stay at home. Now, as the world begins to move out of the shadow of the pandemic, it’s a golden opportunity to reflect on scientific conferences. Are they still fit for purpose – or has the pandemic shown we can do them in a better way?

The trouble with conferences

Prior to the pandemic, one of the main arguments against in-person conferences was their ecological impact. In 2019, Timothy Saunders, then an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore and now an associate professor at the University of Warwick, UK,argued in自然that more needed to be done. He says estimates suggest that a person attending a single conference produces 800kg of CO2排放。桑德斯说:“在年轻人中,意识要强得多。”‘但是我们也需要减少更多的高级人员造成的影响。而且很难改变态度。’

桑德斯并不孤单。2015年,廷德尔气候变化研究中心强调学者as those with some of the worst carbon footprints in the world, suggesting that UK academics could be making on average 4.7 conference trips a year; by comparison, the average UK employee takes an estimated 0.5 flights per year for business reasons. And in 2020,纸上自然发现美国地球物理联盟秋季会议的28,000名与会者的碳足迹大致相当于英国整个爱丁堡市的每周碳排放。

The nature of conferences can alsoprice out chemistsunable to secure sponsorship to travel – particularly those at early stages of their career or from countries outside Europe and North America. It’s a problem Isaiah Speight, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Irvine, US, is all too familiar with. As the western regional chair for the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE), he’s seen the reality of how conferences affect students both as attendee and organiser.

Speight说:“将其放在人们的雷达上很糟糕,” Speight说。‘想想参加会议的钱。在您交流时,有旅行,酒店成本,注册费用,餐点,这六杯咖啡。Speight指出,并非所有这些都可以轻易地报销,尤其是对于学生而言。如果不是,学生将错过早鸟折扣。‘没有垫子 - 您的口袋将受到打击。’

这种固有的特权的另一个问题established researchers is that it reinforces biases, Saunders adds. ‘You have gatekeepers, organisers, who choose who speaks,’ he says. ‘That can be limiting.’ When someone has a reputation for speaking at conferences, they get asked to do it again. This results in the classic problem of the majority of speakers and panellists being older white men. Since the pandemic caused conferences to move to the virtual space, Saunders says, he’s noticed the make-up of attendees – and presenters – change drastically. ‘One thing we’ve shown is that to hear talks about science, you don’t have to be in the same room,’ he says. ‘I think that makes science more accessible, particularly outside of western Europe and the United States. I’ve had a lot of colleagues from South America and Asia who have been saying they can finally attend!’


越来越多的生态意识和改善访问权限的更大方法(例如育儿安排或对学生的更好的支持)仍然可以使大规模的活动变得可行。并且有关键的论点对他们有利。会议是科学领域的大型业务,几乎所有大型组织全年举办一系列活动,以服务于社区并产生收入。2019年,ACS的春季和秋季会议是attended by more than 28,000 chemists,,,,with costs of $590 (£440) for full members. This puts revenues for the events at millions of dollars, even before factoring in exhibitor space and sponsorship; for smaller organisations, the money made via conferences can help fund grants or support members in need.

For academics, conferences are also essential for meeting other people and making connections. For example, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna’s chance meeting at a conference in Puerto Rico led to a Nobel prize winning collaboration around Crispr gene editing. ‘A lot of people go to conferences for networking, and a lot of collaborations are borne out of just bumping into somebody and having a beer,’ says Speight. ‘Cold emailing someone isn’t the same – it takes the humanity out of it. At a conference, you see someone, you get that light in their eyes, the excitement, the joy. I think the pandemic showed many people don’t know how to network – they can’t make a connection without relying on a face, a handshake and an elevator pitch.’

And location can be just as important as that face-to-face contact. For many scientists, in-person conferences act as a holiday away from the lab – a chance to catch up with colleagues while enjoying a change of scenery. Virtual conferences, meanwhile, result in screen fatigue and general exhaustion. ‘It’s an important point, that conferences can help you be productive,’ Saunders concedes. ‘If you’re in a place where you’re relaxed and happy, you are more likely to do good work and have good discussions.’

It seems, then, that in-person conferences aren’t likely to go away. Fortunately, there’s a middle ground that seems to be attracting support from both sides of the debate.



几个概念已经试用过。在任何vember 2019, the European Biological Rhythms Society held its conference live and virtually, with the aid of five major ‘hubs’ to cut down on travel distances. More people chose to attend virtually than in person. Other conferences record all talks, so they can be viewed later to help break up exhaustion, and hold Zoom breakouts to continue discussions. Others are looking at how to take traditionally in-person events, such as poster competitions, into the digital world to ensure attendees get the complete experience. The good news is that there are already clear signs it can be done, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry’sTwitter Poster Conference,它仅在24小时内在社交媒体上举行。当它于2015年首次推出时,它吸引了来自世界各地的80张海报。在2021年,它吸引了来自61个国家的近900个海报,分布在13个不同领域的化学领域。


Speight解释说,Nobcche还在拥抱自己的混合模型版本,旨在抵抗可怕的变焦疲劳。‘Instead of cramming everything into a conference that’s a couple of days, and forces people to get burned out or into multiple Zoom sessions at once, we decided to do pre-conference events to set the stage.’ Rather than spreading the conference just by distance, NOBCChE’s approach means that the conference is spread out over time, giving attendees the opportunity to see everything. ‘After three weeks to a month, we have a series of follow-up events [to the main conference] over the course of four days,’ Speight continues. ‘Some of them would be geared toward early career professionals, some graduate students. That means people can plan ahead for what’s coming up.’ The NOBCChE breakout groups are exclusively virtual, and organised by different conference committees. This means they also tackle the problem of a single committee deciding on speakers, giving a chance for rising stars and those who may otherwise be marginalised to be heard and ensuring topics important to local members are addressed.

混合模型并非没有风险。特别是,对那些可以参加会议的人的偏见只会得到加强,他们可能会冒着进一步加剧可以亲自参加并降级为虚拟世界的人的两层系统的风险。但是,对于Speight而言,只要组织者仍然意识到它们,风险就可以管理 - 重新思考会议的好处远远超过了任何缺点。他说:“我认为人们需要认识到时代正在发展和改变。”‘我认为,一旦人们开始认识到社交媒体在科学方面有一个空间,我们就可以帮助建立下一代科学家。”

When scientific conferences went online, diversity and inclusion soared


研究ers compared historical attendance data from the North American Membrane Society (NAMS) annual conference, the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) conferences, all held in-person in the US, with the same meetings after they switched to a virtual format in 2020. They also examined events specifically designed for the online environment, measuring things like cost, carbon emissions and attendee demographics.

据估计,7000名虚拟参与者的碳足迹估计等于2019年国际会议的一个面对面的与会者。当活动变得遥远时,学生和博士后研究人员的出勤率增加了344%,女性参与增加了多达344%。253%, and attendance jumped by as much as 700% for ‘gender queer’ scientists.

对于社会人口统计学群体而言,与面对面科学会议相关的高昂成本可能会令人难以置信,这些社会人口统计学群体可能更艰难地获得旅行资金,例如学生和博士后科学家。For African researchers the cost of attending recent ICLR, AAS and NAMS in-person events was on average between 80% and 250% of their country’s annual per person gross domestic product (GDP), compared with about 3% of per capita GDP for US participants. Historically, the price tag of attending NAMS in-person meetings was on average more than $1,600 (£1,200) for students and $2,100 for postdoctoral researchers, while the virtual cost for that same meeting in 2020 was just $72.

“这些发现支持虚拟会议进入科学界的能力”said the study’s co-senior author Andrea Armani. ‘If we truly want to improve inclusion and diversity in science and engineering, we need to learn from the past year and continue to develop alternative virtual networking methods,’ she stated.Rebecca Trager