Perspective No. 1: EGU 2020 Online Conference

By Jerom Aerts

With a cup of coffee in my hand and a fully filled schedule for the day, I start attending the EGU 2020 online conference. A strange feeling as I would normally have had a nice stroll through Vienna and a quick metro ride to the conference location. Today – Monday – I have two poster presentations planned later on. I am not sure what to expect even though a wealth of information is made available by the EGU and session organizers. I feel lucky that I have some time to warm up before my presentation by attending other sessions. The first meeting starts…

The general chat-based session setup is that all presenters upload their material to the EGU website given strict formatting guidelines. The material itself may deviate, some presenters use a couple of slides, others a single poster format PDF, and some made an extra effort by creating a presentation including the authors’ voice. All material in the session is made available beforehand and will be available after the conference ends.

The first session starts with some introductions by the conveners in the chatbox on the right side of my screen. After a minute or two, the conveners explained how the chat session should be conducted. The name of each first author is called and the author posts a quick summary of their work. The attendees then have some time to view the presenters’ work and post questions. The exact style of how the sessions are conducted depends on the convenors.

Something I immediately notice is the fast speed at which the next presenter is called. This is a very busy session and the authors only have about 6 minutes to answer questions. Often the author has insufficient time to respond to each question. Normally this would stimulate a lively discussion in the hallway after the session or over coffee, however, this seems unlikely given the nature of an online conference.

It’s time for a lunch break. What I learned from my first session is that I should try to anticipate questions and prepare answers in advance. This will save a lot of time. Something I am also noticing is that following the chat-based sessions requires a lot more energy than attending in person. Needless to say, the gathering of email in my inbox and writing responses does not help. 

My first presentation session starts and in the attendees’ window I see a lot of familiar faces (names). Time to present. I post my summary and proceed by answering the first question. The prepared answers save some time, however, I do not have sufficient time to answer all questions and end up feeling a bit unsatisfied. 

Later on the day, my second presentation session has a different format that suits me better. Now 4 poster presenters start at the same time and the questions are asked all at once. A bit chaotic but this provides me with more time to answer all questions. It felt like a great platform to present.

With the presenting out of the way, the following days of the conference went by quick. Next to chat based sessions I enjoyed EGU webinars, short courses and live sessions. I can’t stress enough what effort the organizers, conveners and presenters spent on creating a great virtual conference. There was even room for lighter material such as the Geosciences Games Night Live Stream. All in all a great experience. 

What I learned from my experience is that overreaching can be a problem. Meaning, because of “Fear of Missing Out” I attended multiple sessions at the same time. Normally physically impossible but now accessible by a click of a button. The jumping from session to session in hindsight was not necessary. 

This brings me to the best part of an online conference. All the material stays available online for a certain amount of time. In the weeks after, I have – on multiple occasions – scrolled through sessions to find great studies that I missed during the conference. 

Overall, an online conference can’t replace the real deal but did a great job with the help of everyone involved. Hopefully next year we can drink a beer next to the Danube Canal again.

Perspective No. 2: SFS Virtual Summer of Science Conference

By Danyka Byrnes

Following suit of other conferences this year, ASLO – SFS 2020 Joint Summer Meeting was canceled. While I knew it was the right decision, not being able to visit Madison WI and interact with colleagues was a huge disappointment. After all, the view from my home office will never compare to the view of Lake Mendota from the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. In place of the in-person meeting, SFS shifted to an online multi-week conference – SFS Summer of Science. Given this unchartered territory, I was unsure of how this would be executed. 

I submitted a poster to the Methods, Technology, and Big Data Posters session (you can find it and all the other posters in the session here). At the beginning of Week 1, all the posters in the seven different sessions went live. You could peruse over 150 posters at your leisure throughout the entire week, with no more exertion than a finger swipe over your mouse’s scroll wheel.

Posters were clickable, allowing the audience to go through the text or figures carefully and digest all of the posters’ content. Each poster had a comment section, allowing people who were passing through to post comments and questions throughout the week while also allowing the presenters to carefully craft a response. 

Furthermore, each session had a specified time slot for the presenters to be at their posters, with the “Methods, Technology, and Big Data” session being Friday at 5 pm. Each poster had a breakout room where the presenter and audience could interact over video chat. At 5 pm, I entered the chat room with my video on and waited for participants to arrive. I had two researchers stop in. We interacted as though we were in the same poster hall. The conversation shifted from my research to mutual colleagues and back again to discuss my projects’ future direction. The exchanges were organic and very pleasant. 

SFS Summer of Science had, in my opinion, a perfect virtual poster session. I felt like I could adequately discuss my science and capture the invigorating aspect of socializing at a scientific conference. The conference offered everything you could want in an online meeting: the standard oral sessions and poster sessions and also exciting workshops, virtual field site tours, virtual Happy Hours, and a Fun Run. While I hope by next year we can safely resume face-to-face interaction, I think organizers should consider using the SFS Summer of Science model for future low-cost and low-carbon conferences. 

Navigating Online Conferences

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