Taking Advantage of Online Conferences

March 10, 2021

Online conferences are an opportunity to embrace the new and focus on the benefits that an online environment has over being in-person. Through greater reach, easier spread of information and a more even playing field between students and well-known professionals, everybody can capitalize on these new opportunities. Admittedly, the unexpected disruption has been frustrating, but virtual conferences are also transforming the way we connect.

Greater Reach for Your Science

Whether presenting at a small conference or a major one, online conferences offer speakers much greater reach. Even small conferences that traditionally only drew a local audience are now afforded a global platform. From a speaker’s point of view, this helps regional student and professional speakers immediately gain an audience full of opportunities. From an audience’s point of view, online conferences break down barriers to attendance, especially for students or professionals who do not have a travel budget. Now is the perfect time to attend more events and get your name out to a wider range of people.

A More Level Playing Field

In-person conferences are much more difficult for someone new to a field, such as a student trying to make a name for themselves. However, the sudden changes due to the pandemic have put everyone on an even playing field. Suddenly, everyone is a novice again because of the learning curve that comes with online conference tools. If anything, younger generations, typically with less experience in public speaking, have an advantage in this new system, as they have more exposure to online social networking and are more comfortable with the transition. As a student or budding professional, there is no better time to develop public speaking skills and start becoming a respected speaker than during this period of transition, while we are all learning together and the audience is more forgiving of faux pas.

Easier Spread of Information

At the beginning of the pandemic, scientific information suddenly became more widely available. Many resources behind paywalls were made unrestricted. Research papers typically held until after peer review have been made public parallel to the peer review process. Researchers, professors, professionals and mentors of all kinds have gone online with content and courses, making it easier to learn skills that would otherwise need an in-person course. The same is happening with conferences. The formatting of online conferences allows an easier transfer of information, especially considering the ease of recording the conference and accessing all of the information, questions and participants within the session. The problem of choosing between parallel presentation tracks is becoming non-existent.

In fact, it is possible to miss a conference entirely and still attend afterwards, including networking with people who attended in real time. Most conferencing tools display participants' names, some include contact info and a few even have a virtual business card function that makes it easy to connect with other attendees both during and after the conference. An electronic interaction may lack the personal touch of speaking to someone, but in the end you still make a LinkedIn contact that you can reach out to for further help reaching your research and career goals.

A Chance To Stand Out

It has been easy to fall behind and attend fewer conferences than usual, especially with worries about the pandemic. As conferences have moved online, many people took the stance of stepping back until they could resume as normal. However, as this pandemic has continued, viewing online conferences as a glass half full may be a better approach. As some research, office and lab time has been curtailed due to the pandemic, attending these conferences is the best way to continue to grow professionally within your field. And whether quarantining, sheltering in place or just social distancing, attending online conferences gives you the chance to stand out from peers sitting them out.

Although virtual conferences may have initially been seen as a nuisance compared to the glamour of international travel to exotic locations, they have their own set of benefits. They offer many global opportunities for both the speakers and the audience.

Author: Sofia Theodoras

Sofia Theodoras
Sofia Theodoras is a student at University of California Berkeley, and is interested in helping increase equity and equality within the microbiology community.