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)