Hello and welcome to another monthly newsletter! This time we will look at something that certainly existed before 2020, but that boomed over the last couple of month for obvious reasons: virtual meetings. It can be your one to one catch-up meeting with your supervisor, your PhD thesis committee, a weekly lab meeting or an entire international conference with thousands of participants.
Who of you had used Zoom, Blackboard-Collaborate, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or one of the other hundreds of video conferencing software out there for more than once a week before March 2020? We suspect it is the same for most of you as it was for us in pre-CoVid-19 life. These programs were used for the occasional call with a collaborator or friend (ideally just one-on-one) from thousands of miles away. Now with personal contacts being restricted, it is THE way to keep in touch and it seems lots of new software have come out of nowhere and the existing ones are being improved at a fast pace. But does this mean we will never have personal meetings again the way we had before? Can we just replace personal meetings? There are many studies going on at the minute looking at what the increased use of video conferencing does to your work-life balance, social interactions, mental health and many more factors.
One of the biggest points for video conferencing is actually not really a pro or con point, it’s a rather neutral fact: Anyone got any better ideas? No? Neither do we. It is crucial for us as scientists and human beings to keep in touch with each other on many levels. Email and texting is easier in some ways (or for some things that you might not feel comfortable saying directly), but there is something about a personal conversation and looking at the person you are talking to that cannot be replaced. However, video enables us to get as close as possible to a personal conversation and with that are a conciliation between just email and a personal conversation. Those of you in their late thirties might say: hang on; does nobody do a good old phone call anymore? Indeed that seems to have moved to the background, but we are sure there are some people out there who prefer the old-fashioned way; good luck finding them.
Notably big international conferences, like the SfN meeting or the FENS Forum, cause nightmares to everyone responsible for coronavirus-related risk assessments, which is why many of them have moved at least partially online. Watching pre-recorded lectures from your couch in your own time allows the audience to combine family and work, saves you travel costs and gives you the chance to go back through the video and check if you got it right. It is also easier to ask questions for some, as you are not in a room with hundreds of other scientists staring at you. You don’t have to stand up and use a microphone, you can email the speaker or post in the comments section, sometimes even anonymously. Some formats of online meetings allow live Q&A sessions, which allow for questions to be answered directly by the speaker but still allow the person asking to keep pretty much hidden. At least these sessions give a little bit of that conference feeling. Ah yes, the conference feeling. It sounds pathetic, but isn’t this precisely why we are going? Presenting your work and yourself, meeting people, exploring the location. In the past, we have quite often used our newsletters to talk about these things and how scary they can be. Particularly for some of us less established scientists, who need to find our way through and feel the pressure of having to build a network. It is still scary, but as we said before it is also worth it and some you have spoken to is just more likely to remember you then someone you have only exchanged emails with.
Depending on your personality, the lack of personal interaction, social events and actually getting to know people might be more or less favourable to you, which is just quite normal. This means there is no “virtual meetings are bad” or “virtual meetings are the best thing ever”. They keep us in touch, they deliver the science, the facts and enable virtual interaction, but they cannot replace the in-person experience and the training effect that it has on us, young rising stars. Now it is as close as we can get, so stay tuned, have a look in the virtual offers out there and maybe they can give you a good impression of which talks you would like to attend in person when this is possible again.
Please note that the arguments we are listing here as purely based on our own impressions and conversations with colleagues. If you feel that we have missed a point that you noticed and would like to raise, please email the YSSC, as this might be very important for future planning and actually just because we are a pretty curious bunch.
“See” you soon,