by Rebeca Diaz Vazquez
There are lots of reasons to attend scientific conferences: presenting your research and getting feedback from experts in your field, starting collaborations, and listening to new ideas that make you go back to work with fresh enthusiasm.
But attending conferences takes time away from experiments and other commitments, while finding the funding and organising the travelling are added burdens to an already busy schedule. Online conferences provide, on paper, a good alternative for when the planets don’t align. So when I saw it was possible to register as an online delegate for the conference “The changing landscape of research on ageing: models, mechanisms and therapies” it piqued my curiosity. The fee for the online registration was £50, while attending would have been £200 on top of the travelling costs, so I thought it was a good opportunity to see how an online conference looked like.
As soon as the conference started, the access to the talks was very easy and quick. The quality of the streaming, video and sound was excellent, and a chat window allowed asking questions to the speakers. I couldn’t use this feature because I watched most of the talks in the evening, as the recordings were available for 48 hours after the congress had finished. This meant I could rewind if I didn’t understand something, or pause to look up concepts I was not familiar with. And importantly, I could stop to make a cup of tea when I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information. I think all conferences would benefit from giving attendants the opportunity to access the recorded talks and going back to an idea after having some time to think about it.
Although the learning aspect is enhanced, for the most part networking opportunities are lost from the online experience. If online conferences became popular, it could be effective to have discussion forums where all delegates could make comments, engage in debates and establish contacts.
As travelling to conferences is very time-consuming, I don’t attend as many as I would like, and I prioritize those directly relevant to my work. Nevertheless, research is increasingly interdisciplinary so I can see many benefits from scientists exploring other interests not related to their current projects. Online conferences facilitate this, and although they miss the advantages of face-to-face interaction, they are more accessible, encourage the attendance of people from diverse fields, and have the potential of opening wider perspectives by bringing together people across different disciplines.
Overall I would recommend live streaming if you cannot make a conference in person as I found it a very useful alternative.