Dr. Pei Qin (Sabrina) Ng, PhD

Previously "The Dataminer's Diary" | PhD in Plant Epigenetics and Bioinformatics |Bioinformatician| Did someone say coffee?

Distant but present: virtual conferences during COVID-19 Pandemic

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

What is it like to be present virtually?

I have always been looking forward to attend conferences, as I enjoy the interesting talk line-ups and stimulating conversations following a talk or poster presentation sessions. Unfortunately, this year being present physically in many national or international conferences has not been possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While all of us a grappling with the new normal due to the pandemic, this unprecedented situation has paved way to virtual conferencing.

I have attended two international conferences virtually, which are the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory (CSHL) Regulatory and Non-coding RNA meeting (USA) and RNA 2020 (Vancouver, Canada).

For more information on these two conferences, you can check out the conference official website as below:

Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory (CSHL) Regulatory and Non-coding RNA (approximately 400 delegates) *

RNA 2020 (approximately 4000 delegates)*

*attendance are based on estimation and are only for the sole purpose to reflect the scale of the virtual conferences

How does virtual conferences work?

Given the scale of both of the conferences as reflected by the number of delegates registered for the virtual event, the two virtual conference adopted very different virtual conference styles.

For convenience, I have summarised the features of the two conferences’ layout in the following table:

Features of conference layoutCSHL Regulatory and non-coding RNARNA 2020
Format and Time zoneLive/EDT (US East Coast)Available for viewing throughout conference duration at your own time
Platform (Talks)ZoomMorressier1
Platform(Poster)Designated webpage linkMorressier + audiovisual introduction to poster (optional)
Q&A sessionZoom chat/email (for talks)
Designated Slack channels (for posters)
email and other contact methods listed by presenters in their talks or posters
Social media for networkingTwitter, Slack, Zoom meetings (with the speakers)Twitter, Slack, Zoom meetings (according to interest groups)

I am indeed amazed with the speed and the creativity of both conferences organisers in putting the conferences together in such a short notice. Honestly, it would be impossible for me to attend both conferences physically due to time, spatial, and financial constraints. Hence, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the fantastic organisers of both conferences for their tremendous effort in ensuring the success of both conferences. Making these conferences online was a total win for me as these two conferences has always been in my “to-attend” bucket list (yes, I do have a bucket list for my phD).

Overview of the virtual conference experience

Benefits of virtual conferences

One obvious benefit is definitely cost effectiveness. To travel to the US or Canada, a significant cost would be involved for flights, public transport, accomodation, visa application and miscellaneous expenses. These definitely cost an arm and a leg to a graduate students without any additional financial support for conferences. The online registration fees are certainly more affordable.

Watching talks and checking out posters from the comfort of your own home (and time zone) definitely saves me from the after effect of jet-lag and travel sickness, which would usually linger a while before adapting to the new environment. Oh! not to forget culture shock and reverse culture shock as well to-and-fro conference travel.

Another aspect of the virtual conferences that I really enjoy is the additional time to go through abstracts, posters, and talks more throughly. Since the presentation materials were made available for delegates for the conference duration, this allows me to slowly digest the information-dense contents of the conference. I was be able to take a step back and think more about the talks and poster after each session, and ask better, in-depth question of the presenter’s work. Such questions led to a few really good conversations and I did make a few new friends via online conferencing.

A bonus feature which I really enjoy about going virtual is the chance to promote your research in a more creative way and keeping track of your digital footprint in the conference itself. Unlike physical conferences where there is only a limited time-slot for lightning talks to promote your poster, I have recorded a short 3 minute style “teaser” video as an introduction to my poster viewers. I believe for some, this also takes away the chills and sweats for having the present under pressure in front of the huge crowd. With that I am also able to keep track on my conference statistics. This is definitely informative in terms of giving me a idea on how much impression I have made via presenting my work during the conference, and of course, from the emails/messages you received via your social media direct messages also consolidates the fact that your work is definitely making an impact. I find this experience essential and meaningful to help me stay motivated on my research, especially during times of uncertainty like this – a small positivity goes a long way.

With that I hope to give you a brief overview of my recent virtual conference experiences. Although the conference format is unusual compared to the in-person format that we are all used to, I am sure we can make the best out of it still during unusual times like this.

7 responses to “Distant but present: virtual conferences during COVID-19 Pandemic”

  1. You have mentioned very interesting details ! ps nice website .


  2. Very good written story. It will be helpful to everyone who usess it, as well as me. Keep up the good work – can’r wait to read more posts.


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  7. […] ✅Attended two international virtual conferences (for more information read the blog post here) […]


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