Huge thanks to all who joined us last week for our first early career researcher (ECR) online conference! The symposium, held over Thursday 18th and Friday 19th February 2021, connected 0ver 100 delegates from our academic teams, spanning all career stages, nine time zones, and three continents. Crucially, this has been the easiest way to bring together our membership from India, Pakistan, South America, and the UK in one meeting. Taking the hosting software platform to its limits, we scheduled 15 oral presentations over four sessions, interspersed with breakout rooms for 26 poster presentations. One of our speakers commented, “Hope you repeat the experience soon, I am eager to participate again!”. Thanks; yes, we will!
The critical factor for any meeting is the quality of the interactions. The latest version of the online meeting software enabled our delegates to move autonomously between rooms, connecting directly with our ECRs at their posters, for small group discussions, and to exchange ideas and suggestions. It is these personal connections that are of most value at an in-person conference, and are most difficult to replicate via the challenges of an online meeting environment.
Attendees’ feedback tells us that the seminars were very well received, and crucially, highlights that these poster rooms enabled effective and easy interactions, feeling ‘natural’ and easy – despite the lack of complimentary drinks and nibbles! From one of our participants: “This was my first time with a conference with breakrooms and I must say I really liked it. It felt like a real poster session”. this is heartening, as it requires everyone to bring both patience with slow connections during broadcasts, and a willingness to learn how to navigate the platform.
Yet an online meeting form has its limits. One of our researchers requested “…a few minutes for a coffee break or some informal chat rooms, allowing us to mimic the kind of interactions that would happen during a ‘real’ meeting”. This is the essence of conferences, and along with the shared experiences of the local sightseeing, the conference dinner, and sharing coffee or a glass of wine, etc., enables the building of familiarity and trust with each other, which underpins the legacy of the collaborations which we have sought to build across the whole NTD Network project. But until we are allowed again to travel, this is what we have.
Several of our delegates have commented on the spirit of openness and welcome which they found infused the meeting. This is great to hear and also says a lot about our membership. Each person’s attitude, and willingness to participate, have an influence on the atmosphere of any event. The success of this gathering is therefore a whole-Network achievement. Thank you, one and all, for making our event a success!