I have to confess something. Going to conferences is what I miss the most of not being in academia anymore. Really.
Scientific conferences have many things I love. Sharing your results in a 20 min talk instead of the months or years that the paper would take to come out. Constant learning from talks with fascinating ideas that you wish were yours. Or not learning at all and just being there with your notebook writing whatever comes to your mind.
And my favorite… the social aspect! I have dear friends who met in scientific meetings. I have written papers with ideas or even collaboration that started at conferences. And I had so much fun in the dinners and later parties! If you have been with me in a meeting, you probably have noticed this ;)
Now all that seems far. Virtual conferences have become the new norm, and they are proving that also bring a number of benefits, so they will probably co-exist with in-person ones. But scientists are afraid that the personal and networking aspect will be missing. Not mentioning how exhausting can be…if when working from home you had several zoom calls in a row, you probably know the feeling. So here there are some things you can do to make most of your virtual meeting without having a “zoom burnout”:
Plan ahead and try to attend live
Do you have a list of talks, masterclasses, and similar things you want to watch a replay and can´t find the time? I do. But when you attend live, that doesn´t happen! Make a plan with the talks you are most interested in, and try to attend live those ones! Plus you´ll have the possibility of asking all your questions ;)
Plan space between talks with mindful breaks
Zoom fatigue is real. Following one talk after each other while focusing on a screen can be exhausting. So be sure you leave plenty of time between talks. And if you are giving that talk, double or triple that time. It can also help if, during Q&As, you avoid looking at the screen, and instead you just listen. And what to do during that free time? Guess it…mindful breaks! Instead of going to answer emails between talks, practice some meditation or breathing exercises to clear your mind. And ideally, introduce some movement, if outdoors even better! You can practice yoga, go for a walk, or any other activity that calms your mind. I have prepared a "conference bag" you can download here ;)
Think about how many talks have you watched on your computer without quickly checking your email…It´s so hard to not do it when you are looking at your screen and the red Gmail envelope is screaming at you. So, you end up reading and answering emails, while the talk is in the background. You are then multi-tasking, which is highly inefficient and exhausting! Instead, try to stay fully present. You will follow the science better, but you´ll also be less tired while training your brain to stay focused on any other task you need to do! Just close all tabs, and have your phone is silence in another room.
Connect with other scientists
This was such an important aspect of attending scientific meetings, and something many people are scared to lose. You may be interested in connecting with someone to discuss science, possible collaborations, or a future job. Then be sure you attend their live talk and ask the questions you have. Or schedule a 30 min meeting. You can also use this period to chat with old colleagues and friends. And whenever possible, switch to audio to help with the zoom fatigue. Lastly, let’s not forget Twitter! It is a powerful tool to network, and most conferences nowadays have hashtags you can use to interact easier with other attendants.
Practice generosity, especially with early-career scientists
You probably remember how happy you were when someone approached you to tell “I loved your talk” (ok, maybe not with those words). Now it’s the moment to be generous. If you enjoy somebody else’s talk, send them an email. You can also amplify those speakers that work in your group, or whose talks you enjoyed. Just mention them in your own talk, or post something about them on Twitter!
Virtual conferences might lack some of the benefits of in-person meetings. But they have other great benefits: you´ll spend less time traveling (and reduce your carbon footprint). They are cheaper and therefore more accessible to the whole world (and here, I am a firm believer that diversity is what science needs). You can fit them to your personal schedule and comfort (think about wearing leggings and your favorite old t-shirt full of holes). And last but not least, if you are an introvert you may even enjoy them more than in-person ones! You can make most of your next virtual conference grabbing the science bits, enjoying the networking possibilities, and all without the need for a holiday to recover. To further help you with that, I have put together some resources in a "conference bag" (meditation audios, an office yoga class, and some ideas to write about each talk). Just download it here, It´s free!
Enjoy your conference, and have fun!