Nature – a multidisciplinary science journal – recently polled more than 900 of its readers regarding virtual science conferences. 74% of those responding to the survey think that scientific meetings should continue to be virtual – or have a hybrid format – after the pandemic ends. The ease of attending from anywhere in the world was listed as a major benefit, allowing 75% of the respondents to attend multiple virtual meetings since the beginning of lockdown, and another 18% attending at least one.
After accessibility, poll respondents said that the lower carbon footprint of virtual meetings is a great benefit. For students, the lower cost of virtual events – which require no travel, and often have lower registration fees – is a top perk.
There are negatives, the biggest being the lack of networking opportunities. Zoom fatigue and time-zone scheduling conflicts were also listed. Event organizers continue to seek ways to increase attendee engagement – such as formal mentorship programs and virtual break rooms for informal chats between presentations. But, on the other hand, some respondents pointed out that early-career scientists and less extroverted attendees might find it less intimidating to ask questions during virtual sessions than during in-person meetings.
Conference organizers are dealing with concerns about future events. The uncertainty of when we will be able to travel easily again makes it difficult to book venues – which often must be booked years in advance. Cancellations fees can be very expensive, so negotiations must take place with the conference centers. It appears that hybrid events will be the format of choice for the next few years. Running both platforms – virtual and real life – could be too expensive for smaller, specialty conferences.