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Ecological conferences provide a unique opportunity for scientists in the field of ecology to develop meaningful connections and exchange research in a rapid, multi‐day, in‐person format. For students and early‐career researchers, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, in‐person conferences are challenging to attend due to the burdens on finances and time. However, as COVID‐19 continues to restrict scientific societies' abilities to host large, in‐person conferences, virtual conferences have increased in prevalence. For students and early‐career researchers, virtual conferences present a multitude of benefits, including reduced attendance costs, increased accessibility to a wider range of conference resources, and reduced levels of anxiety. These factors make virtual conferences more accessible to those historically excluded from science. Further, microcommunities, which we define as a small network of individuals in the same career stage, can provide additional support for students via interacting closely with peers of the same identity, constructing workshops, and fostering belongingness in STEM. In this paper, we discuss the benefits associated with virtual conferences (focusing on students of underrepresented backgrounds), and we suggest methods to continue increasing inclusivity in STEM and scientific conferences as the world continues to adapt in response to the COVID‐19 pandemic.
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Article e01859 Xxxxx 2021 1Contributions
Virtual Scientific Conferences: Benefits and How to Support Underrepresented
Students
Cesar O. Estien1, Eli B. Myron1, Callie A. Oldfield2, Ajisha Alwin3, and
Ecological Society of America Student Section
1Department of Biological Sciences, Florida State University, 319 Stadium Drive,
Tallahassee, Florida 32306, USA
2Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia, 2502 Miller Plant Sciences,
Athens, Georgia 30602, USA
3Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Florida, 1600 SW
Archer Road, Gainesville, Florida 32610, USA
Abstract
Ecological conferences provide a unique opportunity for scientists in the field of ecology to develop
meaningful connections and exchange research in a rapid, multi- day, in- person format. For students
and early- career researchers, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, in- person con-
ferences are challenging to attend due to the burdens on finances and time. However, as COVID- 19
continues to restrict scientific societies’ abilities to host large, in- person conferences, virtual con-
ferences have increased in prevalence. For students and early- career researchers, virtual conferences
present a multitude of benefits, including reduced attendance costs, increased accessibility to a
wider range of conference resources, and reduced levels of anxiety. These factors make virtual
conferences more accessible to those historically excluded from science. Further, microcommunities,
which we define as a small network of individuals in the same career stage, can provide additional
support for students via interacting closely with peers of the same identity, constructing workshops,
and fostering belongingness in STEM. In this paper, we discuss the benefits associated with virtual
conferences (focusing on students of underrepresented backgrounds), and we suggest methods to
continue increasing inclusivity in STEM and scientific conferences as the world continues to adapt
in response to the COVID- 19 pandemic.
CONTRIBUTIONS
© 2021 The Authors The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Ecological Society of America.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Estien, C. O., E. B. Myron, C. A. Oldfield, and A. Alwin; Ecological Society of America Student Section. 2021. Virtual Scientific Conferences: Benefits and
How to Support Underrepresented Students. Bull Ecol Soc Am 00(00):e01859. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.1859
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2 Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 0(0) Article e01859
Key words: accessibility; COVID- 19; STEM inclusivity; virtual conferences.
Introduction
Due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, scientists worldwide are changing how they communicate, work,
and live. Before the pandemic, virtually presenting new research to the scientific community was unusual
and considered less than ideal. However, shifting to an online platform has opened many doors for
budding scientists and has established a path toward inclusivity. For example, virtual conferences and
conferencing platforms offer more flexible involvement options and new opportunities for undergraduate
students to engage with research professionals without the need for travel. Academic conferences
represent an opportunity for students to network, form research collaborations, and explore new fields.
Attending conference workshops allows students to build new skills and meet prominent professionals
in the field of ecology. Prior to the pandemic, attending a research conference typically required setting
aside days for travel, securing funding for conference expenses, and seeking external support (e.g.,
childcare). Even students with university funding must often pay for the conference’s costs upfront
and then be reimbursed, sometimes months later. These inconveniences are usually justified because
conferences represent a unique opportunity for researchers and early- career professionals to exchange
cutting- edge ideas and results (Harrison 2010, Potter et al. 2010, Hall 2015, Little 2020), but the many
barriers associated with attending a scientific conference limit opportunities for engagement, especially
for those from historically excluded backgrounds.
Individuals from historically excluded groups (e.g., Black, Indigenous, and people of color [BIPOC]),
particularly low- income and first- generation students, lack the resources and financial stability to attend
and afford the expenses associated with scientific conferences. Further, in academic spaces, BIPOC
face systemic racism, implicit biases, “weed- out” courses, and biased standardized testing, all of which
limit the capacity for BIPOC, especially those from lower income backgrounds, to move forward
professionally in academia. As a result, non- white academics in the sciences, specifically the natural
sciences, are incredibly rare (Evangelista et al. 2020). Dramatic changes to institutional policies, such
as changes in tenure and promoting hiring guidelines that focus on valuing community engagement
opportunities, will be necessary to increase representation in the STEM workplace (Schell et al. 2020).
For instance, training professors and other mentors in anti- racism policies and inclusive actions will
provide a template for these mentors to train their graduate students (Schell et al. 2020). These changes
will lead to underrepresented students being better served as they become cutting- edge researchers/
scientists who ultimately become future mentors and role models in academic spaces.
BIPOC and other underrepresented groups of students and researchers are crucial to moving science
forward, as a diverse workplace with a mosaic of ideas leads to more productive and innovative research
(Hong and Page 2004, Woolley et al. 2010, Nielsen et al. 2017, AlShebli et al. 2018). However, BIPOC
and other historically excluded groups (e.g., LGBTQIA+, first- generation, or low- income groups) in
academia do not have sufficient access to, or knowledge of, resources that are geared toward retaining
them in academia (such as mentorships, networks, funding, and accessible information) (Schwartz
et al. 2016). Gaps in accessibility force these groups to navigate higher education with minimal support
or individuals end up dismissing academia as a career path. Because students from underrepresented
backgrounds lack the knowledge of, or equal access to, these resources, there must be a substantial
increase in the number of opportunities for these students to connect with and learn from experts in
Article e01859 Xxxxx 2021 3Contributions
their field of interest. As worldwide scientific collaboration becomes more accessible virtually, online
conferences present an opportunity for students who are members of underrepresented groups to find
mentorship and research opportunities.
During the summer of 2020, two prominent ecology organizations, the Ecological Society of America
and Animal Behavior Society, transitioned from in- person conferences to an online format due to the
COVID- 19 pandemic. The sudden rise of virtual conferences, which have effectively transferred the
most valuable aspects of in- person conferences into a virtual space, has presented unique challenges both
logistically and mentally. The transition to an online conference format can be incredibly overwhelming
to undergraduate students and early- career professionals new to these spaces.
This paper explores the participation of ecology students who actively disseminate their results
via traditional academic routes as they transition to virtual conferences. We focus on these students’
experiences at the Ecological Society of America (hereafter ESA) and Animal Behavior Society
(hereafter ABS) Virtual Conferences. In this article, we discuss the benefits associated with virtual
conferences, with the goal of providing recommendations to conference organizers that may result in
high- value experiences for underrepresented students.
Virtual conference benefits
Conferences give students a unique opportunity to engage with scientists from different institutions
and various fields. Many scientists participate in conferences to promote new research, advertise for
or search for jobs, and connect with other professionals. For new student attendees, a conference can
provide the opportunity to explore a wide breadth of research topics by engaging with talks and posters.
Students can take advantage of beneficial opportunities at conferences such as workshops on topics
like science education, science communication, and career trajectories. In addition, many conferences
feature an exhibit hall, showcasing the newest books, technologies, and crafts in the field.
Online conferences have many of the same opportunities as in- person conferences, but time- conflicts
and travel times between events are significantly reduced. Rather than traveling through a conference
venue, the next talk is available at the click of a button, and it is easy to switch between sessions of
interest quickly. On an online platform, attendees can fully immerse in the conference, consume the
material at their own pace, and engage with presentations via live Q&A sessions and panels.
Costs associated with a four- day conference can easily become incredibly expensive with travel,
lodging, food, and registration (Welch et al. 2010). For instance, to attend the ESA 2019 conference
in Louisville, Kentucky, one author paid $1,400 upfront for registration, travel, hotel, and meal costs,
which was later reimbursed by their university. For many students and early- career professionals who
lack research funding, these expenses must be paid via a scholarship or personal funds. By eliminating or
significantly reducing travel expenses, virtual conferences remove this financial barrier for students and
early- career professionals and increase the number of potential attendees who can afford to attend both from
the United States and internationally. As a result, virtual conferences have seen an increase in participation
from international scientists, further increasing the diversity of speakers and attendees (Sarabipour 2020).
With more scientists able to participate as a result of the inclusivity of virtual conferences, more exciting
research and ideas are exchanged, leading to stronger research discussions and collaborations.
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While the limited face- to- face interaction of online conferences may initially seem less engaging, this
format allows individuals who may feel uncomfortable or intimidated by in- person meetings to further
engage in conversations by posing questions and discussion points in a non- confrontational manner.
The format provides space for attendees to contribute more to the conversation (by using the chat and
comment features) than a traditional conference format. Additionally, in a virtual setting, presenters are
pushed to articulate themselves in new ways (Fig. 1), as traditional 15- minute talks may be reduced to a
six- minute talk or a “lightning” three- minute talk. This challenges presenters to refocus their presentation
on vital information about the project and sparks interesting questions for discussion. Some presenters
have adapted to the virtual format by developing graphical depictions of their research, video content,
and interactive features within presentations.
At both ESA and ABS Virtual Conferences, we also observed an increased dependence on Twitter
for engagement in virtual conferences. Twitter has been historically used to promote conferences and
highlight talks, resulting in a plethora of interactions (Caravaggi and James 2017). A particular function
that was used to amplify student presentations during the 2020 ESA and ABS Annual Meeting was
Twitter “threads.” Threads allow the user to link tweets together, providing an efficient way to describe
slides and other information from their presentation in a digestible manner (Fig. 2). Twitter threads
were used to give the story behind students’ research while also sharing transcripts and slides from their
conference presentations. This allowed their presentations to reach a larger audience while making it
more accessible. While sharing their presentations, students also tagged their collaborators and funding
sources and used field- specific hashtags to reach a targeted audience. Additional outcomes from using
Twitter included students being able to use these “thread presentations” to network within and beyond
the conference attendees by using Twitter’s large platform. Thus, we see more opportunities to engage
with the audience, boost presentation publicity, and extend networks and connections with scientists
following the conference.
There are many benefits to virtual networking (Fig. 3), but having the opportunity to professionally
connect with individuals in- person is an unmatched networking opportunity provided by in- person
conferences. However, virtual conferences have developed innovative opportunities for networking in
an online setting. For example, ESA hosted numerous virtual networking sessions for subsections of the
ESA member body, creating smaller, welcoming spaces for conversation between ecologists with similar
interests. In addition, the ESA SEEDS Program hosted daily “check- ins” facilitated by the Diversity
Programs manager, creating a safe space to connect with fellow ecology students. From our experience,
these networking events, along with various virtual workshops, live Q&As, and panels offered by the ESA
virtual conference, gave the opportunity for students to generate meaningful professional connections in
an online setting (2020 ESA Annual Meeting [August 3– 6]).
Establishing microcommunities in a virtual space
Navigating academia can be daunting, particularly for first- generation and BIPOC students. Scientific
conferences are vital for early- career scientists and students, allowing them to share their findings
and learn about new research. However, new attendees may find them overwhelming. The desire to
share research and connect with potential colleagues can be overshadowed by “impostor syndrome,”
a condition characterized by anxiety and fear of appearing “unintelligent” to peers and other scientists
(Kolligian and Sternberg 1991). These fears that undergraduates and first- time attendees face in these
Article e01859 Xxxxx 2021 5Contributions
Fig. 1. A graphical illustration of research using comic panels, presented by Callie Oldfield at ESA 2020.
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6 Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 0(0) Article e01859
spaces can be alleviated with microcommunities. We define a microcommunity as a small network of
individuals who are in a similar career stage and who share the goal of helping each other meet their
goals. Microcommunities at conferences provide a space to support, encourage, and guide individuals
through the unique challenges of a conference setting. Ideally, microcommunities should aim to satisfy
Kelman’s (2006) processes for fully integrating an individual into a community: (1) rule orientation
(students are provided with the necessary skills to succeed in science); (2) role orientation (students
Fig. 2. Example of student twitter thread presentations during the 2020 ESA Annual Meeting. This image shows
an excerpt from a thread presentation by contributing presenter Ajisha Alwin for her talk on undergraduate field
research programs. Extracted from Twitter: https://twitt er.com/Ajish aAlwi n/statu s/12903 56429 74074 4705.
Article e01859 Xxxxx 2021 7Contributions
engage with the microcommunity and maintain these relationships, thus allowing students to see
themselves as scientists); and (3) value orientation (students establish a desire to improve science and
those that experience it) (Ahern- Dodson et al. 2020). Here, we will discuss how microcommunities
within larger organizations (the Ecological Society of America’s Student Section, SEEDS Program, and
the Animal Behavior Society’s Charles Turner Program) meet these processes and support scientists
from historically excluded backgrounds, especially those in the early stages of their career as they attend
their first large conference.
Fig. 3. A conceptual figure on the benefits and costs of virtual conferences.
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Ecological Society of America Student Section at the 2020 Meeting
The ESA Student Section is the largest section within the society and caters to the needs of the large
student community. The Student Section has a long- standing history of supporting the work done by
underrepresented students and addressing important student issues in the larger professional society
(Boyd et al. 2020). ESA Annual Meetings serves as a large platform where the Student Section hosts
several events and workshops targeted at helping students succeed in their career paths. The Student
Section offers travel grant awards to selected students to offset some costs of attending ESA Annual
Meetings. In 2019, the Section was only able to award 21.8% of applicants with travel grants (applicants:
119; recipients: 26). This year, due to lower costs of the virtual conference, the Student Section was able
to award all 98 applicants with registration grants. This allowed students from diverse backgrounds,
and who would otherwise be unable to attend the conference, to gain the experience of participating in
this large professional meeting. Recipients ranged from high school students to graduate students, and
59.8% were non- members of the Section.
The Student Section also awards extraordinary students in ecology and related fields for their
contributions to different areas: research, publication, diversity and outreach, ecology education, and
science communication. These Trailblazing Awards come with a registration grant to the conference,
membership to ESA, and a cash award. Award applications are shortlisted based on criteria that include
a diversity score multiplied by their composite scores from judges. This initiative is meant to enhance
the work done by underrepresented students (Boyd et al. 2020). Although this year’s Annual Meeting
was virtual, the Section continued the tradition of these awards by hosting a virtual award ceremony and
highlighting recipients that were unable to present their work at the Meeting.
The Section revised its Student Highlight Program, which is meant to amplify excellent student
presentations and other student- run events. This year’s highlighted students included recipients of
Trailblazing Awards. The events were conducted as virtual interviews that were streamed live on the
Student Section’s Facebook page. The Section also used its social media platforms to provide virtual
spaces for networking with other attendees at the conference and to highlight student presentations.
This allowed students a larger platform to share their work and helped other attendees find students’
presentations. Daily live Q&A sessions were also conducted to assist students as they navigated the
conference and provided a space to share interesting sessions and to network.
SEEDS Virtual Cohort within the Ecological Society of America’s 2020 Meeting
At the 2020 Virtual ESA Annual Meeting, the Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity, and
Sustainability (SEEDS) Program allowed 50 students to virtually attend the conference, forming a
microcommunity with mentoring built in. The SEEDS Program aims to diversify ecology by providing
mentorship and presenting underrepresented groups with diverse opportunities they would typically
not have access to, including fully funded REU opportunities through their SPUR (SEEDS Partnership
for Undergraduate Research) fellowship opportunities (Mourad et al. 2018). These are accessible to
all students enrolled in US institutions, and they help students from underrepresented and low- income
backgrounds gain valuable research experiences integral to their training as scientists. At the ESA
Annual Meetings, SEEDS students are given an exclusive, all- paid experience and the opportunity to
work with a mentor to help them navigate the meeting and plan their conference experience to further
Article e01859 Xxxxx 2021 9Contributions
their career. Another highlight of the SEEDS Program is that it provides its students with safe spaces
and other regular check- in style networking events to cater to its diverse student body. These networking
opportunities also allow students to meet other mentors and professionals from a diverse range of fields,
which ultimately aids in the students’ career development. SEEDS student presentations are further
amplified during the conference through other sections within ESA, particularly the ESA Student
Section. These sections highlight student events and presentations through their social media platforms.
At this year’s meeting, two SEEDS SPUR fellowship recipients were selected and interviewed as part of
the ESA Student Section’s Highlight Program. The interviews were uploaded on the Student Section’s
YouTube channel.
When asked how the SEEDS Program supported the 2020 cohort as individuals and scientists,
participants said:
Overall, SEEDS was especially helpful in facilitating networking. I definitely feel more confident
about my place as a scientist in the ESA, having developed a stronger network of connections with
other scientists. The mentorship program was especially helpful in that regard. SEEDS made
me feel safer in conference spaces by demonstrating that administration in ESA cared about
DEIJ [diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice] issues in a meaningful and less superficial way. By
frequently having admins and committee members in SEEDS calls, I got the feeling that if an issue
did arise in which I felt unsafe, I would have the support of the society.
I was not anticipating to have such an amazing personality and enthusiasm match with my
mentor. She has been so invested in my success and growth, even after only knowing me for a
week. I felt very comfortable expressing my fears and insecurities regarding grad school/ecology/
science.
Charles H. Turner Award within the Animal Behavior Society
Every year, ABS offers undergraduate students and recently graduated individuals the chance to
“become a Turner.” The Turner Award was created in memoriam of Charles H. Turner, one of the
first African- American researchers in animal behavior and a pioneer in physiology, animal behavior,
and entomology (Lee 2020). A Turner Fellow receives financial support to attend the conference and
become a part of a Turner cohort for that year. This program, and the resulting cohort, further supports
students, fostering “belongingness” and encouraging individuals to see themselves as scientists. Turner
fellows attend professional and identity- centered workshops comprised of development activities.
Additionally, each Turner awardee is assigned a mentor to meet one- on- one to discuss graduate school,
career development, and conference content.
In addition to providing resources that are often difficult to locate as an underrepresented individual,
this award also provides individuals with a group of supportive peers. Following the annual meeting,
awardees are encouraged to stay connected to their peers in virtual peer- mentoring groups, facilitated
by the ABS diversity committee. In these groups, a safe and supportive space is created for individuals
to receive feedback on ongoing projects and discuss career prospects, academia, and the difficulties
within it.
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The setting and space created in this microcommunity allow for optimal identity expression in spaces
(e.g., conferences) that were not always welcoming.
Turner Program participants said:
The Turner program allowed me to learn more about my identity within STEM and how crucial
it was for me to incorporate every part of me into my work in order to help those that come after
me. The level of support I received from my Turner mentor and fellow cohort on knowledge about
graduate school and fellowship applications is something I wouldn’t have received elsewhere.
The program made me feel included in science, stronger as a scientist, reassured me that I can
become a scientist in a field that doesn’t reflect my identity.
Participating in the ABS Turner Program made attending a virtual conference less overwhelming
by providing guidance on how to make the most of the meeting. The program created a support
network of people with backgrounds and career goals similar to mine. The challenges I faced as an
URM [underrepresented minority] were not only my struggles but that of my peers and mentors. I
felt comfortable asking the “obvious” questions and voicing my thoughts on the science presented.
Conclusion
Although some individuals may cultivate an interest in the sciences before attending college, access
to research opportunities and conferences is key to stimulating interests in this career path. These
opportunities, and the skills developed from them, are crucial for students to see themselves as confident
researchers who can succeed in ecology (Little 2020). Further, conferences provide a myriad of
opportunities that can lead to graduate, post- doctoral, and faculty positions (Sarabipour 2020). In a study
conducted with African- American students in the ESA SEEDS Program, Armstrong et al. (2007) noted
that research experience was a prominent factor in a student’s decision to pursue a career in ecology.
Additional contributing factors included family support, early exposure to the natural environment
and ecology professionals, and a positive view of ecology (Armstrong et al. 2007). These factors can
become particularly important for reassuring belongingness during conferences typically dominated by
individuals who do not reflect any of their identities.
Despite non- ideal conditions, virtual conferences are a big step toward increasing inclusivity in STEM.
Additionally, virtual conferences reduce the environmental repercussions associated with an in- person
conference (e.g., reduction in carbon footprint) and are significantly cheaper, increasing the number of
attendees via lower registration costs (Sarabipour 2020). Virtual conferences, especially those that have
constructed microcommunities for student attendees, allow undergraduate students and early- career
scientists to feel safe, confident, seen, and respected. Microcommunities, like SEEDS and the Turner
Program, give individuals from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to connect with others from
similar backgrounds and discuss hardships, aspirations, and how they envision the future of their field.
A virtual platform pushes scientists to think further about inclusivity and critically evaluate past
conferences. Previously, those attending in- person conferences were limited by time, financial, and
geographic barriers. We observed virtual conferences dissolve many of these barriers and show us
the potential for virtual professional events. Hence, we see a strong case being made for a transition
Article e01859 Xxxxx 2021 11Contributions
toward hybrid conferences. Hybrid conferences, having both an in- person and online component, will
increase the visibility of those actively working and pursuing science, thereby improving inclusivity
and representation. Opportunities for people of all backgrounds to engage in conferences are crucial to
diversifying and making STEM more inclusive.
Future directions
Virtual conferences have been successful amidst the COVID- 19 pandemic despite having little
preparation time. While these conferences have dissolved many of the barriers associated with traditional
scientific conferences, we push scientists and organizers to critically think about how these spaces
can be further inclusive. We must ask how scientific societies can offer more inclusive options for
professional development, research opportunities, and broadly accessing science. For example, all talks
given at conferences can be recorded and uploaded to society websites with provided closed captions to
accommodate those that are hard- of- hearing.
With the potential for the COVID- 19 pandemic to have lasting effects on the ability to host large
public gatherings, hybrid conferences will likely continue to be encouraged and perhaps become the
new norm. For ecology and STEM as a whole, to continue moving forward with innovative ideas and
novel perspectives, we must continue to diversify the field and create equitable opportunities. Hybrid
conferences have a unique opportunity to contribute to this goal and reach all scientists interested in
presenting and/or attending the conferences. In order to maximize this potential for fostering inclusivity,
we propose: (1) Creating microcommunities for undergraduate students/early- career researchers that
satisfy the three processes outlined by Kelman (2006); (2) Diverting money saved on conference costs
to hire JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) professionals for panels and workshops; (3)
Including closed captions on all presentations and hiring American Sign Language translators for all
major keynote speakers; (4) Strongly encouraging all speakers to upload their talks to an accessible
platform (e.g., YouTube); and (5) Conducting a pre- and post- conference surveys to receive anonymous
feedback in order to improve the attendee experience.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank Fred Abbott and the SEEDS Program of the Ecological Society of America.
We would like to thank Damian Elias, Jennifer Hamel, and those who are a part of the ABS diversity
committee and supervise the Turner Award. We would also like to thank those who provided us with
their experiences within their respective microcommunity.
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... Secondly, our ndings suggest that virtual environments -including Zoom chatboxes -may facilitate rapid, e cient knowledge exchange, while offering opportunities for less con dent participants to seek advice from experts. That participants from different backgrounds felt able to drive discussions at ANH2021 mirrors descriptions of virtual conferences as democratising, multi-functional, and complex 18,19,40 and supports evidence that virtual settings may reduce power dynamics between gender, seniorities, ethnicities, geography and income 9,24,25 . However, on the ip side several study participants found interacting online awkward, alienating, and unproductive. ...
... However, on the ip side several study participants found interacting online awkward, alienating, and unproductive. This ambivalence re ects mixed literature, where some perceive virtual settings to enhance interactivity and social networking opportunities 15,37,41 ; while others perceive the opposite 24,42,43 . ...
... While there was evidence that some participants formed lasting connections, the lack of in-person interaction and spontaneity presented a barrier. Other studies also found this critical to forming long-lasting and impactful scienti c exchange and community 3,16,27 and cite it as the primary loss of virtual conferences 17,24,25,42 . Among those study participants who had attended in-person conferences in the past, all expressed a marked difference between the rich, informal, and productive nature of human interactions versus that of the virtual setting; seeing virtual-only settings -in their current form -as an inadequate and temporary replacement of inperson events. ...
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Scientific conferences are crucial to fostering knowledge exchange, career development, and transdisciplinary research to address complex problems. Recent transitions to virtual formats are shown to increase attendance and potentially address equity concerns by mitigating structural, financial, and logistical barriers. However, the social, behavioural and intellectual implications of moving conferences online are less well understood. We examine participation in a well-established scientific conference in its second year fully online, according to gender and country income level of videoconferencing attendees. We interlink these data with rich qualitative insights to look beyond attendance and to understand the nature and experiences of actual participation. We find that virtual conferences facilitate equitable access for women and researchers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) through removing visa requirements and travel costs, and by enabling attendance alongside family care obligations. Alongside technological advances, this contributes to disrupting power dynamics in academia. However, loss of human connection and multi-dimensional stimulation of in-person attendance may be detrimental to collaboration and sense of community. Advancements in the equity, diversity, and inclusion of scientific exchange are accelerating but organisers must ensure that transitions to virtual or hybrid conferences does not create a two-tiered system in which researchers with limited access to resources are excluded from the rich intellectual and social benefits of in-person conferences.
... Virtual conferences have several advantages over face-to-face events. They are more easily accessible to researchers independent of where they are based and how their private and work commitments are organised (Estien et al., 2021;Roos et al., 2020). These conferences are also inclusive as there is no travel required and the participation costs are commonly lower than for live meetings. ...
... These conferences are also inclusive as there is no travel required and the participation costs are commonly lower than for live meetings. This facilitates the attendance of underrepresented groups such as researchers from developing countries, students or those who are less mobile for other reasons (Estien et al., 2021;Fraser et al., 2017;van Ewijk & Hoekman, 2021). ...
... During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, many countries still had international travel restrictions and bans on public events. Several organisers of online conferences report a huge increase in attendance (for instance the Tourman conference with 1000 participants). 1 Literature suggests that enabling a wider range of participants and accessibility are among the main effects of virtual events, benefiting both those from developing countries and early career researchers (Estien et al., 2021;Fraser et al., 2017;Roos et al., 2020;van Ewijk & Hoekman, 2021). Scholars who are not so mobile for family or other reasons are also likely to benefit. ...
Article
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In this study, the gender representation of keynote speakers at conferences before and during the Covid-19 pandemic is investigated. Data is based on 162 academic conferences in tourism and related fields during the period 2019 to mid-2022. These conferences have 546 keynote speakers of which 4 per cent are representing low- or middle-income countries and slightly more than a third are women. Results based on Fractional Logit estimations reveal that the opportunity to attend conferences online during the pandemic does not significantly increase the proportion of women among keynote speakers. The proportion of female keynote speakers is unevenly distributed across the original regions for the scheduled conferences or the hosting institutions. It is highest for conferences organised in Australia/New Zealand and lowest in Asia. Conferences that span over several days have a relatively larger offer of female keynote speakers than shorter ones.
... For early-career researchers (e.g. undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs) and underrepresented groups, attending these conferences and having access to the networking opportunities can be critical for finding mentorship and research prospects (Estien et al., 2021;Rowe, 2018). Flexibility in viewing presentations, the diverse audience and presenters and the absence of costs were all listed as major advantages of the Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference. ...
... These expenses can make attendance difficult for students and early-career researchers, individuals from historically excluded groups (e.g. Black, Indigenous, people of colour), lowincome or first-generation students (Estien et al., 2021), immigration-status challenged folks, or those with additional responsibilities (e.g. childcare; Eckhaus & Davidovitch, 2018;Henderson & Moreau, 2020). ...
... childcare; Eckhaus & Davidovitch, 2018;Henderson & Moreau, 2020). Twitter conferences, like other virtual conferences (Estien et al., 2021;Raby & Madden, 2021a), help dissolve traditional barriers, creating a more inclusive space for diverse groups at various stages of their career. ...
Article
Social media platforms, such as Twitter, provide the opportunity for academics to network and to disseminate research to colleagues and the general public. More recently, Twitter in particular has become a platform for hosting academic conferences in addition to or as an alternative to either traditional in-person academic conferences or virtual conferences, now typical since the onset of COVID. The Animal Behavior Society (ABS) and the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) hosted their first global Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference in January 2021, in which researchers in animal behaviour from around the world shared recent work with fellow academics. Here, we explore the impact of the first global Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference (#AnimBehav2021) using questionnaires and Web site analytics to assess the dissemination of research and networking opportunities the event provided. Ultimately, this Animal Behaviour Twitter Conference increased the global reach and the accessibility of communicating animal behaviour research in comparison to in-person events. Furthermore, we use this case study to describe the logistics of organizing a Twitter conference in the field of animal behaviour, the novel opportunities this conference brought along and how other academic societies in behavioural biology can adapt our approach and benefit from this conference format.
... Poster sessions provide unique opportunities for researchers to present their ideas to an audience that spans a broad range of experiences, backgrounds, interests, and career stages (1)(2)(3). They also prepare students for graduate school and science careers. ...
... For example, during undergraduate poster sessions, students receive effective peer feedback and knowledge synthesis while improving skills in science communication (4)(5)(6). Similarly, at scientific conferences, poster sessions have the potential to provide growth of scientific skills because researchers receive feedback on projects, brainstorm solutions to problems, and network for future collaborations (1,3). Conversations that happen during poster sessions can have powerful effects on the direction and quality of the final research product and can also be profoundly impactful to researchers; however, poster sessions need to be thoughtfully designed with these aims in mind to be effective (3). ...
... In our perusal of conferences held during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that of the 30 virtual conferences that held a poster session, 22 were asynchronous with a poster file upload (sometimes with accompanied short video/audio upload), and only 8 held synchronous components (typically in the form of a live discussion of Q&A via Zoom or the conference website). While conference hosts and participants might worry about the diminishing networking and feedback opportunities offered by virtual poster sessions (11), a combination of creativity and the use of technological tools can allow peer-to-peer feedback and facilitate effective networking (1,11,12). Furthermore, virtual poster sessions can be accessible and inclusive to a wider audience by sharing scientific knowledge online, using text-to-speech technology, and reducing the need to travel (1,10,13,14). ...
Article
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ABSTRACT Poster sessions are an integral part of conferences because they facilitate networking opportunities and provide a platform for researchers at every career stage to present and get feedback on their work. In Spring 2020, prompted by the rapid transition of the SABER (Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research) Summer 2020 meeting to an online format, we designed and implemented a no-cost and accessible, asynchronous, and synchronous virtual poster session. Here, we outlined our goals for hosting an inclusive virtual poster session (VPS), demonstrated how a backward design approach can facilitate effective VPS, and described our rationale for adopting an asynchronous/synchronous model using the Padlet and Zoom platforms. We shared our lessons learned to facilitate a second VPS at the SABER 2021 meeting and to assist future poster session organizers in designing engaging, inclusive, and accessible poster sessions. Virtual poster sessions have great potential to improve collaborations and science communication experiences at scientific conferences and in undergraduate classrooms.
... Most importantly, none of the online meeting platforms have been able to match the level of interaction and networking that would take place in a physical event. 12 In many seminars, the participants are not even able to see who the other participants are. Therefore, there is no opportunity for the participants to share ideas or even pleasantries during a coffee break. ...
Article
Since 2004, the ISCB Student Council has been organizing different symposia worldwide, gathering together the community of young computational biologists. Due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic situation, the world scientific community was forced to cancel in-person meetings for almost two years, imposing the adoption of virtual formats instead. After the successful editions of our continental symposia in 2020 in the USA, Latin America, and Europe, we organized our flagship global event, the Student Council Symposium (SCS) 2021, trying to apply all previous lessons learned and to exploit the advantages that virtuality has to offer.
... Researchers with disabilities (e.g., deaf and hard of hearing), an oftenoverlooked disadvantaged group, can benefit from unique features of virtual conferences such as the addition of subtitles to recorded talks (Huyck et al., 2021). Virtual conferences may also increase ECRs' active participation through reducing social anxieties (Estien et al., 2021). In line with this, participants considered reducing inequalities a compelling reason to change current conference travel practices [M = 5.89, SD = 1.44, on a scale from 1 (a very bad reason) to 7 (a very good reason)]. ...
Article
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At the 2019 and 2021 International Conference on Environmental Psychology, discussions were held on the future of conferences in light of the enormous greenhouse gas emissions and inequities associated with conference travel. In this manuscript, we provide an early career researcher (ECR) perspective on this discussion. We argue that travel-intensive conference practices damage both the environment and our credibility as a discipline, conflict with the intrinsic values and motivations of our discipline, and are inequitable. As such, they must change. This change can be achieved by moving toward virtual and hybrid conferences, which can reduce researchers’ carbon footprints and promote equity, if employed carefully and with informal exchange as a priority. By acting collectively and with the support of institutional change, we can adapt conference travel norms in our field. To investigate whether our arguments correspond to views in the wider community of ECRs within environmental psychology, we conducted a community case study. By leveraging our professional networks and directly contacting researchers in countries underrepresented in those networks, we recruited 117 ECRs in 32 countries for an online survey in February 2022. The surveyed ECRs supported a change in conference travel practices, including flying less, and perceived the number of researchers wanting to reduce their travel emissions to be growing. Thirteen percent of respondents had even considered leaving academia due to travel requirements. Concerning alternative conference formats, a mixed picture emerged. Overall, participants had slightly negative evaluations of virtual conferences, but expected them to improve within the next 5 years. However, ECRs with health issues, facing visa challenges, on low funding, living in remote areas, with caretaking obligations or facing travel restrictions due to COVID-19 expected a switch toward virtual or hybrid conferences to positively affect their groups. Participants were divided about their ability to build professional relationships in virtual settings, but believed that maintaining relationships virtually is possible. We conclude by arguing that the concerns of ECRs in environmental psychology about current and alternative conference practices must be taken seriously. We call on our community to work on collective solutions and less travel-intensive conference designs using participatory methods.
... Finally, the higher representation of early-career researchers at eDSBS (figure 3c,e) was due to a combination of factors such as the meeting's particular focus on this group, the virtual format and ease of use, as well as the much lower registration costs compared with in-person meetings which has led to enhanced early-career participation elsewhere too (e.g. [5,22]). The wide participation of eDSBS from researchers of all career stages, indicates that there is an appetite among the scientific community for early-career-focused meetings with international attendance. ...
Article
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We consider the opportunities and challenges associated with organizing a conference online, using a case study of a medium-sized (approx. 400 participants) international conference held virtually in August 2020. In addition, we present quantifiable evidence of the participants' experience using the results from an online post-conference questionnaire. Although the virtual meeting was not able to replicate the in-person experience in some aspects (e.g. less engagement between participants) the overwhelming majority of respondents found the meeting an enjoyable experience and would join similar events again. Notably, there was a strong desire for future in-person meetings to have at least some online component. Online attendance by lower-income researchers was higher compared with a past, similar-themed in-person meeting held in a high-income nation, but comparable to one held in an upper-middle-income nation. This indicates that online conferences are not a panacea for diversity and inclusivity, and that holding in-person meetings in developing economies can be at least as effective. Given that it is now relatively easy to stream contents of meetings online using low-cost methods, there are clear benefits in making all presented content accessible online, as well as organizing online networking events for those unable to attend in person.
... pandemic has increased accessibility of research to students and lecturers from around the world (Estien et al., 2021;Skiles et al., 2020). ...
Article
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, numerous academic conferences and seminars were moved online. Some remote (online) seminars have the aim to be maintained permanently after the pandemic, offering weekly opportunities for scientists, postdocs, and students to learn about research and to improve global networking. Remote seminars are a good option to promote inclusion and diversity, allowing students worldwide to participate and to interact with researchers from a broad cultural and ethnic background. Capitalizing on our experience with the ongoing International Remote Seminar on Frontiers in Social Evolution (FINE), we propose four teaching tools that can be integrated into undergraduate and graduate courses and that can be adapted for use with most remote seminar series. We make recommendations for the use of: (i) Certified remote seminar attendance. (ii) Relevant articles from the primary literature. (iii) Teaching slides, and (iv) Recorded seminars. Our aims are to promote and facilitate the use of the proposed teaching tools in Animal Behavior and related courses, and to encourage other remote seminar organizers to make teaching tools available.
Article
The advancement of science and evidence-based solutions for planetary health increasingly require interdisciplinary and international learning and sharing. Yet aviation travel to academic conferences is carbon-intensive and expensive, thus perpetuating planetary health and equity challenges. Using data from five annual international Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy Week conferences from 2016 to 2020, we explore whether moving to virtual conferencing produced co-benefits for climate, participation, attendee interaction, and satisfaction. We report on: absolute number of attendees, proportion of attendees from countries of different income levels, number of participants at social events, aviation CO2 emissions, and overall ratings of the event by participants. Transitioning online resulted in large reductions in travel-related aviation CO2 emissions, alongside increased attendance—including among attendees from low-income and middle-income countries. This was achieved without a major change in the participant rating of the event. However, the online format resulted in lower participation in conference social events. The urgency of reducing CO2 emissions in pursuit of planetary health and improving equity in scientific exchange requires new modalities of academic conferencing. This study indicates that co-benefits can be achieved when transitioning online. Challenges exist for virtual events, such as emulating the intangible facets of in-person interactions, overcoming time-zone limitations, and digital divides.
Technical Report
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Raportissa tarkastellaan tapahtumateollisuuden ja muiden tapahtumatoteuttajien kehitystä koronapandemian aikana Suomessa ja heidän näkemyksiään tapahtumien toteuttamisesta pandemian aikana ja sen jälkeen. Raportissa kiinnitetään huomiota myös tapahtumatoteuttajien kestävän kehityksen mukaisiin toimintamalleihin ja vastuullisuuteen sekä virtuaalitodellisuuden (VR) ja lisätyn todellisuuden (AR) soveltamismahdollisuuksiin tapahtumatuotannossa. Huhtikuussa 2021 internetissä toteutettuun kyselyyn vastasi 75 suomalaista tapahtumatoteuttajaa eri aloilta (kulttuuri, urheilu, seminaarit ja messut, muut). Lisäksi 24 tapahtumatoteuttajaa haastateltiin puhelimitse. Tutkimuksessa tarkasteltiin myös suomalaisia ja ulkomaisia media- ja tiedeartikkeleita tapahtumien toteuttamisesta pandemian aikana. Pandemian aikana lähes kaikki (85%) vastanneista tapahtumien toteuttajista joko siirsivät tai peruivat tapahtumiaan. Organisaatioista 77% muutti aiemman fyysisen tapahtuman etä- tai hybriditapahtumaksi, ja hybriditapahtumia aiotaan toteuttaa myös pandemian jälkeen. Joihinkin tapahtumiin osallistuttiin pelkästään etänä seuraamalla suoraa verkkolähetystä (livestream) ja 43% organisaatioista toteutti virtuaalitapahtuman pandemian aikana. Pandemian rajoitusten myötä 29% vastanneista organisaatiosta vähensi henkilöstöään, ja 40% vähensi merkittävästi tapahtumia. Erityisesti suuria tuhansien osallistujien tapahtumia järjestettiin vähemmän. VR:ää tai AR:ää tapahtumissaan oli soveltanut 24%. Vastanneista 31% esitti, että VR/AR soveltuu toteutettaviin tapahtumiin nykyisellään, ja 65% osoitti kiinnostusta niiden soveltamiseen. Kaikki olivat omasta mielestään huomioineet kestävän kehityksen tapahtumatuotannossaan. Vastanneista 63% arvioi hiilijalanjäljen pienentyneen etätapahtumien myötä. Tapahtumatoteuttajista 17% oli laskenut yksittäisen tapahtuman hiilijalanjäljen tai mahdollistanut osallistujien ympäristökulujen kompensoinnin ja 16% oli julkaissut organisaation ympäristö- tai kestävyysraportin. Lähes kaikkien mukaan tapahtumatoteuttajien tulee kannustaa osallistujia ja yleisöä kestävään kehitykseen.
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Scientific conferences have an important role in the exchange of ideas and knowledge within the scientific community. Conferences also provide early-career researchers with opportunities to make themselves known within their field of research. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought traditional in-person conferences to a halt for the foreseeable future, the growth of virtual conferences has highlighted many of the disadvantages associated with the in-person format and demonstrated the advantages of moving these events online. Here, based on data from in-person and virtual conferences in a range of subjects, we describe how virtual conferences are more inclusive, more affordable, less time-consuming and more accessible worldwide, especially for early-career researchers. Making conferences more open and inclusive will provide both immediate and long-term benefits to the scientific community.
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Our non-Black colleagues must fight anti-Black racism and white supremacy within the academy to authentically promote Black excellence. Amplifying Black excellence in ecology and evolution is the antidote for white supremacy in the academy.
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This paper examines the context of science scholarship and research careers experienced by behavioural biologists from under-represented minority (URM) groups during the period starting in the late 1800s until the early decades of the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). For much of history, white European and American men have dominated the seats of scientific leadership, shaping narratives and controlling who asks scientific questions, how these questions are examined and what is significant. Yet, individuals from URM groups have navigated careers in animal behaviour and related fields, and along with some nonminority allied scientists, have often simultaneously advocated for diversity and inclusion among our ranks. The lasting impact of these scholar activists has been important not only to the discipline, but to science as a whole. This paper shines lights on missing narratives of URMs who were often excluded in academic histories, as well as emphasizing the importance of creating more inclusive spaces for future animal behaviour scholars. I highlight the contributions of American scientists in the U.S.A. who have contributed to the development of animal behaviour and related disciplines and have raised awareness about social justice and inclusivity in our field.
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Programs designed to broaden participation in science are often deemed “successful” based on quantitative evidence such as student participation rates, retention, and persistence. These numbers alone only explain that a program met its goals; they seldom critically explain how, specifically, the program achieved its success. To address this gap, we studied students’ perspectives about and experiences with the Ecological Society of America's award‐winning education and diversity mentoring program, Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS). The persistence rate in ecology by SEEDS participants is three times greater than the national average, but the numbers alone do not explain the program's impact. We explored the reasons why this program has been so successful by gathering qualitative data as direct evidence explaining how SEEDS influenced participants’ decisions to study science and pursue science careers, and the resulting integration into a scientific community. We coded open‐ended survey responses from SEEDS alumni against a social influence theoretical framework that proposes three dominant processes that predict students’ integration into a scientific community: scientific self‐efficacy, scientific identity, and shared values with the scientific community. We not only found emergent evidence for all three processes, but we also gained a deeper understanding of how—in participants’ own words—SEEDS achieves its success. Specifically, SEEDS successfully welcomes students into a science community by (1) providing both breadth and depth of programming that offers flexible, multilayered approaches to developing self‐efficacy to fit the needs of diverse students, (2) enabling participants to integrate a science identity into other preexisting identities, and (3) implementing programming that intentionally helps participants to consciously connect their values with those of their communities.
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Inspired by the social and economic benefits of diversity, we analyze over 9 million papers and 6 million scientists to study the relationship between research impact and five classes of diversity: ethnicity, discipline, gender, affiliation, and academic age. Using randomized baseline models, we establish the presence of homophily in ethnicity, gender and affiliation. We then study the effect of diversity on scientific impact, as reflected in citations. Remarkably, of the classes considered, ethnic diversity had the strongest correlation with scientific impact. To further isolate the effects of ethnic diversity, we used randomized baseline models and again found a clear link between diversity and impact. To further support these findings, we use coarsened exact matching to compare the scientific impact of ethnically diverse papers and scientists with closely-matched control groups. Here, we find that ethnic diversity resulted in an impact gain of 10.63% for papers, and 47.67% for scientists.
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Professional societies can, and should, recruit and retain young scientists by providing a welcoming and inclusive intellectual home. SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability), the flagship education program of the Ecological Society of America, is designed to broaden participation in ecology through mentoring, field trips, leadership development, and research fellowships. Nationally, fewer than 40% of college students who intended to pursue a career in science, technology, math, or engineering complete their degrees in these fields, and these numbers are even smaller for underrepresented minorities (URMs). In contrast, 80% of SEEDS alumni in our study had completed at least one degree in an ecology-related field, and the completion rate for URMs was 85%. In addition, 71% of working SEEDS alumni respondents have careers in ecology. SEEDS is a model for other professional societies wishing to increase students' self-efficacy and sense of belonging through professional development and positive social reinforcement.
Article
Background: Undergraduate research is evident in many forms across higher education: in journals, at conferences and on research placements. It is widely reported that undergraduate research can encourage the development of discipline-specific and transferable communication skills and, in some cases, a more complex development of higher-order critical appraisal. Recent studies of extracurricular undergraduate research conferences have also found that participants report a development of self-authorship and an appreciation of the conference as liminal and transformative space. With many published studies measuring immediate feedback surrounding conference events, there is also a need to explore participants’ reflections over a longer term period of time. Purpose: This small-scale project investigated participants’ self-report of whether and in what ways participation in a non-assessed, extracurricular undergraduate research conference had impacted their academic and professional practices, one year after their involvement in the conference. Method: The qualitative study took place over two academic years with participants from an undergraduate conference which was held annually. The investigation adopted an action research methodology and completed two cycles of research. Data were collected firstly through an online survey with open questions, yielding feedback from 44 respondents. Focus groups were then conducted with nine of these students to explore this data further. A thematic approach was used to analyse the data. Findings: The two cycles of data collection and analyses resulted in the identification of four central themes: (1) general positive impact on studies or career; (2) the development of presentation skills and personal confidence; (3) the development of research skills and perspectives; (4) an increased engagement with extracurricular opportunities. Conclusions: Overall, our analysis identified that participants reported a development in communication skills and an enhanced relationship with the concept of ‘research’ and self-authorship. Students’ report that participation directly led to increased engagement with additional extracurricular activities is particularly noteworthy, as it contributes something new to the growing body of literature surrounding undergraduate research. More widely, the study suggests the potential for undergraduate conferences to act as springboards for increased extracurricular engagement.