Under my new name

In April (2015) I married into the Fraser family and, seeing as I am yet to publish an article, have decided to transform myself from Hannah Pearson to Hannah Fraser. This involves jumping through a whole lot of hoops. For example, it takes about 50 days for the Office of Birth, Deaths and Marriage to register that you are married, then you have to apply for your certificate which takes a few weeks. Until you receive it you can’t change your name at Melbourne University so my emails are still under my original name which has caused some confusion.

Unfortunately, by far the biggest issue so far is that I keep forgetting that my name has changed and introducing myself as the wrong thing. So if any of you catch me at it, let me know.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to let you know that, from now on, I will be posting updates on my research under my new name on my new site. Hopefully, you will find something interesting.

All the best

Hannah Fraser

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Why online conference could be better than traditional ones

A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne QAECO and CEBRA labs got together and brainstormed ways that communicating your research and finding out about other people’s research might be easier or more difficult at traditional vs online conferences. The following is an account of what we spoke about.

So I’ve taken you through the things that we think you get from traditional conferences and how those might look at online conferences, but we also came up with a number of things that we think online conferences could do better than traditional ones.

Less expensive

Online conferences are less expensive to run and less expensive to attend. By having the conference online you avoid the cost of hiring a venue and paying for catering, clean up, tech support etc. Obviously there are still some costs associated with online conferences such as paying a company to run it for you or paying a tech person to develop the platform for you to use. Despite these expenses, online conferences are dramatically cheaper to run than traditional ones. As a result, it is possible to charge less for registration, which benefits everyone attending. Costs to attendants are cut further by removing the need to travel and pay for accommodation, making online conferences much more accessible for people with less funding.

Lower carbon footprint

By avoiding flying to conferences, we drastically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted, even when you take into account the extra time spent running a computer, for more on this check out this post.

Find talks more easily

The online format will allow talks and speakers to list key words which would be searchable, making it easier to find all relevant talks.

Miss fewer talks

Because the information is pre-recorded and available at all times, you don’t ever need to miss out on a talk because of a time clash. Also if someone recommends a talk to you, you can watch it afterwards (not being able to do this is always frustrating… particularly as I never seem to be there for the best student talk).

Connectivity bonus

Because all of the information is online, you can easily link people watching your talk to your blog/website/twitter account/email address or relevant publications. This would make it easier for people to find out more about your and your research, expanding your network and improving your information transfer.

Languages other than English

English is the scientific language which is a huge benefit for those people (like me) for whom English is their first language but not so good for everyone else. The online format makes it a lot easier to provide translations for talks in either audio or sub-title form, increasing the ease of cross cultural communication.

No necessity for travel

Although travel is sometimes desirable, the need to travel to conferences makes it hard for people with little funding or with family care responsibilities. Having conferences online would make it easier for these groups to obtain the benefits of conferences.

Conclusion

Based on our understanding of online conferences, they have some advantages over traditional conferences though may also fall short in some areas. Traditional conferences come in varying sizes and are organised in various ways. As a result the benefits of them differ. In many cases, the disadvantages we list for online conferences are similarly disadvantageous at large or poorly run traditional conferences (e.g. at a very large conference there is less networking potential and you don’t get to see every talk). The advantages and disadvantages of online conferences will also differ depending on how they are run, though they should be more robust to increased size due to the use of search functions. Ultimately, with much work and planning we believe that online conferences could provide a viable option to traditional conferences. However, we need to know more about what we want to get from conferences and how online conferences perform to get a clear idea about this.

For more on the differences between traditional and online conferences see: this introductory post, this one on networking, this one on information transfer, this one on professional development and this one on personal fulfilment

Written by Hannah based on the intellectual property of Kylie Soanes, Matt Malishev, Stuart Jones, Fin Roberts, Rosanna Van Hespen, David Duncan, Christopher Jones and herself.

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Personal fulfilment at traditional vs online conferences

A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne QAECO and CEBRA labs got together and brainstormed ways that communicating your research and finding out about other people’s research might be easier or more difficult at traditional vs online conferences. The following is an account of what we spoke about.

One of the great things about being a researcher is that you get the opportunity to travel. The great new places we get to visit partially compensate for the competitiveness and lack of job stability. Often researchers will tag holidays onto the end of conferences and as a result conferences in nice locations get more applications and better attendance than those in less well regarded places. For example, a conference in Hawaii is going to be a lot more popular than one in Hobart. Conferences also offer field trips which neatly combine seeing some of the local ecology or culture with networking. Some people suggest that attending international conferences can broaden your academic understanding (particularly if you team it with visiting some labs) because of your exposure to new ideas (although I often hear about people who are on the same conference circuit seeing each other give the same talk at conferences on different continents so I’m not sure how valid this is).

Obviously online conferences don’t give you the benefit of travel but that is kind of the point. For researchers from developing countries, government agencies or less financially stable labs, the expense of travel means that they can’t get the essential benefits of the conference (networking, information transfer and professional development), let alone the perks of seeing somewhere new. Also one of the reasons online conferences have the potential to be so beneficial is that they avoid expending huge amounts of carbon by flying internationally.

In the next installment I’ll tell you about what we additional benefits we think online conferences have over traditional ones. For more on the differences between traditional and online conferences see: this post on information transfer, this one on networking and this one on professional development

Written by Hannah based on the intellectual property of Kylie Soanes, Matt Malishev, Stuart Jones, Fin Roberts, Rosanna Van Hespen, David Duncan, Christopher Jones and herself.

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Professional development at traditional vs online conferences

A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne QAECO and CEBRA labs got together and brainstormed ways that communicating your research and finding out about other people’s research might be easier or more difficult at traditional vs online conferences. The following is an account of what we spoke about.

Conferences are important for professional development, particularly as a student or early-career researcher. Traditional conferences offer several avenues for developing professional skills particularly by networking, and practicing spoken communication skills. They provide a chance to buff up your CV by organising/ chairing conference sessions, demonstrating that you can get accepted to talk at prestigious conferences and showing off your speaking skills. Also, research institutions and funding agencies usually require that you present your work conferences. Our team of QAEcologist and CEBRAnalysis talked about whether opportunities for professional development differ between traditional and online conferences.

The differences in professional development from networking wont be discussed in this post because we canvassed that fairly thoroughly in a previous post.We will focus on the possibilities for organising and chairing conference sessions, practicing and demonstrating spoken communication skills, demonstrating the ability to be accepted to prestigious conferences and fulfilling the obligation to attend conferences.

Organising and chairing conference sessions

At traditional conferences, researchers have the opportunity organise symposia or chair sessions. The online format of conferences does not impede people from organising symposia but chairing a session becomes less meaningful. At an online conference, attendants will be able to choose which order they want to view talks in, rendering the role of chair logistically difficult and unnecessary. On the other hand, online conferences will include discussion boards and forums and the role of moderating these could be equally impressive and advantageous once online conferences become a well-known medium.

Practicing spoken communication skills

Presenting a talk at both traditional and online conferences will improve (or keep warm) your presentation skills but the method of delivery is different and so are the pressures that you are practising coping with. At a traditional conference you present your talk in a large room with a whole lot of intelligent people watching you. You have one chance to deliver it and you know that, if you misspeak or leave out an important detail, your audience could pick you up on it.

In contrast, your content is recorded ahead of time for online conferences which means that you can have a number of attempts and produce something that you’re really happy with. This takes off the pressure of performance though it does leave the possibility of spending an excessive amount of time recording yourself giving a presentation (less than ideal). It also means that you don’t get to practise performing on stage under pressure, which might leave you under-prepared for presenting at a traditional conference.

Demonstrate impressive spoken skills

From our point of view it is just as possible to demonstrate spoken communication skills at online conferences as it is at traditional conferences. In fact, it might be slightly more possible to demonstrate spoken communication skills at online conferences because of the possibility of creating a presentation with no errors in it by undertaking multiple attempts.

Acceptance to prestigious conferences

When you’re going for a job your prospective employers look at your record of conference talks and are particularly impressed by those which are very competitive or prestigious. Online conferences will definitely tick the box of having spoken at a conference. However, we suspect that (at least to begin with) speaking at an online conference will be viewed as less impressive/prestigious than speaking at traditional conferences. Furthermore, there is a slight possibility that future employers will think that it might be a scam (equivalent to those people who run ‘online journals’ which will ‘be your friend’ if you would submit your articles to them), until online conferences become more established.

Obligations

When you are supported by funding bodies and research institutions, they often require you to present your work at conferences. This makes funding bodies feel like their money is going towards research which has a wide impact and gives research institutions an opportunity to advertise their success and interesting research. Aside from possible initial distrust of online conferences, we see no reason why they shouldn’t perform the same role as traditional conferences.

Conclusion

As far as professional development goes, we think that online conferences have the ability to provide as many benefits as traditional ones once they are established. However, we acknowledge that online conferences might be met with skepticism initially, potentially devaluing the professional development opportunities.

In the next installment I’ll tell you about what we thought about how online and traditional conferences compare when it comes to personal benefits. For more on the differences between traditional and online conferences see:this introductory postthis post on networking, this one on information transfer and this one on additional benefits.

Written by Hannah based on the intellectual property of Kylie Soanes, Matt Malishev, Stuart Jones, Fin Roberts, Rosanna Van Hespen, David Duncan, Christopher Jones and herself.

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Info transfer at traditional vs online conferences

A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne QAECO and CEBRA labs got together and brainstormed ways that communicating your research and finding out about other people’s research might be easier or more difficult at traditional vs online conferences. The following is an account of what we spoke about.

The most obvious reason for attending a conference is to spread the word about your most recent findings and get up-to-date on what other researchers are looking at. The question is whether you can transfer information more effectively in traditional or online conferences.

Traditional Conferences

Traditional conferences typically have two avenues for communicating your research: talks and posters (though there is a trend to including speed talks as well). Conferences vary in price but tend to be too expensive (particularly when accounting for travel expenses) for people from cash-strapped labs, government (and non-government) organisations and developing countries to attend. They also require spending long days at conference centres often in a different state or country which makes it hard for people with family care responsibilities to attend.

From what I’ve seen, talks tend to be 10-12 minutes long with a short question time afterwards (though the talk often runs into the question time). These talks are organised into sessions based on themes (which may or may not match your interests). At all but the smallest conferences, sessions are run concurrently in separate rooms so you cant see them all and you invariably miss some of the talks that you’re interested in and see some talks which aren’t relevant to you.

Poster sessions are a really good idea but are hard pull off. If done well they provide an opportunity for one-on-one conversation with like-minded researchers. If done poorly, the turn-out is bad and poster presenters are lucky to have a single visitor.

Online Conferences

Online conferences should be far less expensive to attend than traditional conferences, making it more possible for people from cash-strapped labs, government and non-government organisations and developing countries to attend (though there is a question about whether sufficient internet connections are available in developing countries to allow this). The low price and online format could also make it possible for undergraduate students and interested members of the public to attend. Together this means that, if you present your research at online conferences, a wider variety of people have access to it increasing the potential for your research to have impact.

Online conferences aren’t live so there’s no need to miss talks due to concurrent sessions. Using key word searches it should be easy to customise your program so that you see all of the talks you are interested in seeing. This removes the necessity of seeing talks that you aren’t interested in, saving time.

Unfortunately, if people are able to only see the talks they are particularly interested in, it is a lot more possible for you to present a talk which is seen by very few people or no one at all. So it could be a bit hit-or-miss like a poster sessions at traditional conferences.

The other potential drawback of online conferences is that people may engage with them less because they are at their desk, possibly interacting with family or students and tempted to finish their latest paper instead of listening to conference talks. Traditional conferences corral people into places where they are separated from every day distractions and where it is particularly difficult to get work done. There is a danger that people wont engage as fully with online conferences as they do at traditional ones because of distractions.

Comparison

We believed that online conferences have (the potential to have) the edge over traditional conferences when it comes to transferring information because of the ability to reach a wider audience than is possible at a traditional conference and because you dont miss out on seeing talks due to conference scheduling. However, we acknowledge that tactics such as promoting the talks of people who are engaging well with the conference might be necessary to ensure that people see a good number of talks (minimising the chances of talks having an audience of zero).

In the next installment I’ll tell you about what we thought about how online and traditional conferences compare when it comes to Professional development (improving your skills). For more on the differences between traditional and online conferences see:this introductory post, this post on networking, this one on professional development and this one on personal benefits, and this one on additional benefits.

Written by Hannah based on the intellectual property of Kylie Soanes, Matt Malishev, Stuart Jones, Fin Roberts, Rosanna Van Hespen, David Duncan, Christopher Jones and herself.

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Networking at traditional vs online conferences

A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne QAECO and CEBRA labs got together and brainstormed ways that networking might be better or worse at traditional vs online conferences. The following is an account of what we spoke about.

Networking is one of those things that we all know we should be doing (but don’t always follow through on). It’s important for spreading the word about your research and for developing collaborations. Networking can also give you access to information about relevant jobs and increase your chances of being chosen for them.

Traditional Conferences

Traditional conferences have a suite of opportunities for a keen networker. At morning/afternoon tea and lunch times scientists roam around, often individually, providing you with an opportunity to waylay them (a task which is made easier if you have seen their talk. “I went to your talk and found your research interesting” is a great ice breaker).

There are also the poster session and conference dinner where your networking ability is enhanced by the ready availability of alcohol. You are most likely to approach senior researchers you particularly admire (and are intimidated by) at these events.

Then there’s twitter. I wont say too much about that because I’m a twitter novice but you can use twitter to find out what people are talking about in other sessions and network via twitter with the researchers who are tweeting the event.

Lastly, there are field trips. I think these are under-appreciated resources for networking, you don’t get to choose exactly who you network with but a) the people on field trips are usually from interstate or overseas – great for expanding your network into other countries–, b) these people are separated from their group of friends and therefore keen to talk to you and c) when the conversation gets awkward (which it always seems to at some point) you can divert it to whatever the field trip is about.

Aside from these networking situations, if you’re really organised and canny you contact people who are attending the conference and organise to meet them face-to-face at morning or afternoon tea and get your network going that way.

Despite all of these great opportunities we don’t always network very much at conferences. Our ability to network at conferences is inhibited by a number of factors including 1) approaching someone you’ve never met is scary –particularly if that person is really successful– and we’re afraid of rejection, 2) it’s hard to find the people you want to talk to at a conference, and 3) we are often surrounded by other members of our lab and tempted to spend most of our time with them.

Online Conferences

Online conferences are lacking most of these opportunities, people don’t mill around conveniently at morning and afternoon tea time, there’s no conference dinner and if there is a poster session there is no alcohol provided (on the upside you are able to moderate your level of intoxication for the whole experience to enhance your networking capabilities). You also cant meet up with people face-to-face. Online conferences have different opportunities, some of which have the potential to overcome some of the barriers to networking.

Firstly it’s less scary to talk to someone online than it is in person (this could be because you feel a little more anonymous or because you can plan what you’re going to say before you say it. Also accents and speech impediments are no longer a problem.

Secondly, you aren’t surrounded by members of your lab group or friends who tempt you to spend time socialising with them rather than networking.

There are discussion boards where you can engage with particular researchers whose work you’re interested in and find out who is interested in the same stuff based on the people posting on the discussion boards.

It’s easy to find the people you want to network with (if they gave a talk), you don’t have to search the tea room for them (and you don’t need to be afraid that you’ve forgotten what they look like) because there’s a search function for that.

You can create an online profile which tells people about your research which can be sorted by key words and include links to discussion boards or email addresses. This could make it easier to find and connect with researchers with shared interests than is possible at traditional conferences.

Of course, twitter is just as relevant for online conferences as traditional ones though ‘live tweeting’ takes on a slightly different meaning as talks aren’t presented live

Comparison

When you compare the networking benefits for traditional and online conferences it seems like we found more positives for traditional conferences than online ones but this is context dependent

Firstly, some people are too uncomfortable at conferences to spend any time networking. These people may do better at online conferences where face-to-face communication is replaced with virtual discussions.

Secondly, at traditional conferences it’s more difficult to talk to the more popular researchers because they always seem to be surrounded by admiring people. In the online world, these people may be responding to more questions than other people but they are never ‘occupied’ in the same way as they can be at traditional conferences.

Thirdly, the opportunities to network at traditional conferences vary depending on the number of attendees. At small conferences you get an opportunity to get to know most of the attendees and networking is relatively easy. Small conferences are also excellent for building collaborations because they’re usually very specific so the people you meet have similar research interests to you. On the other hand, it can be really hard to network at large conferences because of the bewildering number of people. You cant see all the talks so you only know a subset of people and if you want to network with them you have to find them in a huge crowd. Possibly online conferences are more beneficial relative to traditional conferences depending on the number of attendees.

In the next installment I’ll tell you about what we thought about how online and traditional conferences compare when it comes to transferring information (communicating your research and learning about the research of others). For more on the differences between traditional and online conferences see:this introductory post, this post on information transferthis one on professional development and this one on personal benefits, and this one on additional benefits.

Written by Hannah based on the intellectual property of Kylie Soanes, Matt Malishev, Stuart Jones, Fin Roberts, Rosanna Van Hespen, David Duncan, Christopher Jones and herself.

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Why conferences?

Melbourne University researchers from the QAECO and CEBRA groups recently returned from a lab retreat in Creswick where we got talking on some really interesting topics. A group of us teamed up to discuss the reasons we attend conferences and how (and whether) we think that online conferences can give us the same benefits.

Our initial feeling was that online conferences would be inferior to traditional conferences because they miss out on face-to-face interaction but as we talked through the benefits of each type of conference it became less clear that traditional conferences would be better.

It surprised me that we spend so much time and money attending conferences but aren’t sure what we’re getting out of them. So far I haven’t found any published (paper, report, blog) account of the benefits of attending conferences (though the team is on it now which might turn up some more information), so our team of qaecologists and cebranalysts brainstormed the benefits we hope to obtain when we attend conferences. These fit broadly into a few categories: networking, transferring information, professional development, personal fulfillment and extra benefits of being online. We then discussed whether and to what extent each of these has the potential to be realised through online conferences. I started writing about each of the topics for this blog but it turns out we actually covered quite a lot of ground and I don’t want to put people through a gruelingly long blog post. Now there will be separate blogs for each of these topics as well as a bit of a general discussion.

For those of you who don’t want to commit to reading through all of it here are some of highlights from my point of view (in dot point form):

  • Online conferences lack the ability to network face-to-face, potentially making it more difficult to form strong connections with people. However, they may make it easier to interact with people if you are shy and the online facility removes the problem of remaining ‘stuck’ in circles of people you already know.
  • Online conferences have the potential to provide the same benefits in terms of communicating research, developing professional skills and fulfilling professional necessities (requirements for grant and fellowship applications) as traditional conferences (if done well and recognised as official conferences)
  • Online conferences may allow people to attend despite being unable to travel due to scarcity of funds or time commitments. This could be particularly good for people in poor labs, developing countries or for people with childcare commitments.
  • Online conferences are far less expensive to run than traditional conferences which might make them more accessible to students (including undergraduate), and employees of government and non-government agencies- a big bonus for communicating research to places where it might have impact.
  • Online conferences require lower carbon emissions than traditional conferences (which started the discussion in the first place, see this blog and this one for some background)

Written by Hannah based on the intellectual property of Kylie Soanes, Matt Malishev, Stuart Jones, Fin Roberts, Rosanna Van Hespen, David Duncan, Christopher Jones and herself.

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