Reflection on Virtual Conferences

10 May 2021 12:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Submitted by Laura T. Simon, William Ridgway, & Adam Greene

Presentation experience at virtual conferences

Laura: I presented two posters at two different conferences this Spring. While each conference had their own system for submitting and “presenting” posters, the experience at both conferences was very similar. The posters were available for viewing during the entire conference and each conference had a “live” poster session where the author(s) could be on a chat or in a video room to talk with people who “stopped by” the poster. In general, most people who presented posters have noted they did not get many (if any) people who attended their poster session.

William: Throughout this past academic year, I have presented at a variety of virtual conferences, with the most recent being comprised of a paper talk. Like in-person conferences, virtual conferences have advantages and disadvantages. Prior to being changed to a virtual environment, the first conference I was scheduled to attend during the pandemic involved international travel. While always appreciative for the opportunity to enjoy a new city and/or country, I was pleased to know that I would not have to endure the economic cost typically associated with conference travel, specifically the funds the university does not cover through the typical reimbursement process. In fact, this was my general outlook on virtual conferences until a truly post-pandemic world was seen again; a lens through which economic cost could be alleviated. It did not take long for me to realize that virtual conferences, while reducing economic costs, also come at a social cost.

Adam: I presented as the first speaker in a symposium at the Midwest Psychological Association conference. Unfortunately, my talk began at 6:30am, due to my current location on the west coast. Given that caveat, the presentation went quite smoothly in my opinion. However, the speakers were in a zoom call, while the viewers watched via live stream on the MPA site. Due to this, I had no way of knowing if anyone was watching, which meant that the best strategy was to imagine that I was simply presenting to the others in the zoom call. While this led to some good questions and interactions between the presenters, the audience was not able to interact with us. This was my first symposium experience, and I have to imagine that in-person ones would be both more challenging and interactive with a visible audience.

Benefits of presenting at virtual conferences

Laura: I was grateful for the opportunity to disseminate my research to others during the pandemic. While posters generally had very little traffic, I hope people were still able to view them outside the “poster sessions”.  Worst case scenario, it was still something to put on the CV.

William: While virtual conferences provide benefits such as a reduction in economic cost and more ideal access to those with disabilities, physical or otherwise, they come at a social cost. One of the reasons conferences are looked forward to in part, is due to the social engagement one experiences when presenting their research. While various organizations have done a noteworthy job of attempting to recreate an in-person experience to the best of their abilities, virtual conferences are simply not the same.

Benefits of attending virtual conferences as a graduate student

Laura: As a graduate student, one of the most beneficial parts of conferences (besides presenting) is networking. The virtual conferences I attended attempted to have chat rooms or “networking lounges” for people to stop by to network, but I found very few people used them. Without those important networking opportunities, the best part of conferences was attending symposiums and learning new information.

Challenges of attending virtual conferences for graduate students

Laura: For me, the most challenging aspect of attending virtual conferences was the additional workload. Due to the virtual nature of the conference, it didn’t have the pre-pandemic expectations of taking the time off of a regular schedule to travel to a different location. Without the idea of being in a different location for the conference, it was difficult to separate a “normal” work week from the conference week, leading to the conference adding onto a normal weeks’ worth of meetings and work. A major recommendation I have is for those who attend virtual conferences to block off conference time in their schedules like they would if the conferences were in person.

William: Despite the social cost that comes with virtual conferences, I very much feel as though they should have a place in a post-pandemic world, however, it is equally important to highlight the value of in-person conferences and the level of engagement that they afford to students and faculty alike.

Other comments on virtual conferences

Laura: I did not anticipate the zoom fatigue I experienced from attending virtual conferences. It surprised me how draining it was to sit in front of the computer all day (despite virtually working for over a year) and did not give myself time in between conference sessions to recharge like we would during in person conferences. Because virtual conferences don’t seem very different than working from home, don’t forget to take time to rest and recharge like you would for conferences in person!

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