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Research Culture: Virtual conferences raise standards for accessibility and interactions

  1. Sarvenaz Sarabipour  Is a corresponding author
  1. Institute for Computational Medicine, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, United States
Feature Article
Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e62668 doi: 10.7554/eLife.62668
4 figures and 1 additional file

Figures

Figure 1 with 2 supplements
The fully virtual conferencing mode has been successfully adopted by scientific societies and researchers across the globe.

The fully virtual meeting structure has enabled record attendance and geographic, socioeconomic and career stage diversity of attendees, an unprecedented level of human interactions, and exchange of scientific ideas and discussions online. From top left to right: The Nutrition Science meeting (Nutrition 2019), the annual meeting American Society for Nutrition (ASN), was held in-person with 3,157 attendees from 59 countries. Nutrition 2020 was hosted online with free registration, financially supported by the ASN foundation and had over 30,000 participants from 167 countries. The 2019 American Physical Society April meeting (APS 2019) was held in person with 1,758 attendees, while APS 2020 was held virtually and had 7,267 participants worldwide. The 7th international conference on learning representations (ICLR 2019), one of the world’s major machine learning conferences, welcomed a total of 2,528 attendees from 50 countries in person in New Orleans, Louisiana. The 8th international conference on learning representations (ICLR 2020), was held virtually with a total of 4,583 attendees, and 1,336 speakers participated virtually from 89 countries. This virtual meeting also boasted over 100,000 chat messages, 100,000 video watches, 200 unique average views per page and 1 million total page views and time spent at sponsor booths (ICLR Organizing Committees, 2020). ICLR 2020 had no registration fees. Aggregate anonymous attendee counts and represented countries were courtesy of conference organizers and scientific societies (http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4044404). Last two panels: the gross (full amount an employer pays before taxes and other deductions are withheld) minimum annual (12 months) wages worldwide (in US dollars). The salary data shown are for the year 2019 (data source https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/PA.NUS.PRVT.PP). Early-career researcher salaries are close to the minimum annual wage worldwide (data source: https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Postdoctoral_Research_Associate/Salary). Attending a single national or international conference typically costs USD $1,000–4,000 (data source: https://elifeambassadors.github.io/improving-conferences/) thus attending in-person conferences is not feasible for many researchers, especially early-career researchers worldwide. The last panel shows the latest (2018) number of researchers per million inhabitants worldwide. Researchers (in full-time equivalent) per million inhabitants is a direct measure of the number of research and development workers per million people. (data source: https://en.unesco.org/node/252277). The world average number of researchers per million inhabitants is ~1,345. The educational, career development and networking opportunities offered by virtual conferences to a larger population of researchers can in the short-term enhance the visibility of under-privileged researchers, and in the long-term help improve researcher density for hundreds of nations with low numbers of researchers.

Figure 1—figure supplement 1
Attendees to six virtual conferences in 2020 by country.

From left to right and top to bottom: number of attendees coming from each country to Neuromatch 2020, TAGC 2020, ADA 2020, Global Immunotalks 2020, ICML 2020 and POM 2020. The intensity of the colors represents the number of attendees as indicated by each colorbar.

Figure 1—figure supplement 2
Attendees to five virtual conferences in 2020 by state (in the United States) and number of colleges and universities by state.

From left to right and top to bottom, maps of the USA showing the number of attendees from each state in the United States to TAGC 2020, Neuromatch 2020, ADA 2020, Global Immunotalks 2020 and ICML 2020; the number of accredited academic institutions per state is shown in the bottom right panel.

Figure 2 with 1 supplement
The virtual mode and lower attendance and registration costs enable a record high attendance of all career stages and research sectors.

The fully virtual meeting structure has enabled much higher attendance of researchers from diverse career stages, notably early-career researchers (ECRs) (trainees and faculty). From top to bottom and left to right: The Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) annual meeting was attended by 949 researchers in-person in 2019 and 2480 researchers virtually in 2020. The virtual meeting was held at a reduced registration cost. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) annual meeting was held in-person in 2019 and virtually in 2020. Attendance at ADA 2020 required a registration fee but ~1,000 more clinicians attended the ADA 2020 virtual meeting compared to the in-person ADA 2019. The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) meeting was held virtually in 2020 free of registration costs. The American Physical Society (APS) 2019 meeting was held in-person and the 2020 meeting was held virtually. The Allied Genetics Conference (TAGC), a meeting of the Genetics Society of America (GSA), has only been held twice (in-person in 2016 and virtually in 2020). TAGC 2020 virtual conference attendance required no registration fee hence experienced a very high level of GSA member and non-member participation at all career stages and research sectors (academia, non-profit and industry). ‘Other’ in all panels may include private citizens.

Figure 2—figure supplement 1
Attendees to three virtual conferences in 2020 by career stage.

From left to right, attendees to POM 2020, Neuromatch 2020 and ICLR by career stage. For ICLR both in-person (2019) and virtual (2020) numbers are shown.

Figure 3 with 2 supplements
Virtual conferences enable a multiple-fold increase in attendance from more countries.

(Left) Total number of attendees, and (right) total number of countries the attendees participated from. Shown are the typical in-person (year 2019) and 2020 virtual attendee counts for annual meetings of American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), European Geosciences Union (EGU), AIDS biennial conference, The Endocrine Society (ENDO), American Society for Nutrition (ASN), American Diabetes Association (ADA), Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC), American Society for Human Genetics (ASHG), American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS), American Society for Plant Biology (ASPB), International Conference for Learning Representation (ICLR), International Conference for Machine Learning (ICML), Research in Computational Molecular Biology (RECOMB), Society for Developmental Biology (SDB), the quadrennial meeting of the Genetics Society of America (TAGC), Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) of the American Statistical Association, Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM), American Physical Society (APS) April meeting, the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the American Botanical Society meeting (Botany), American Society for Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT), American Psychological Association (APA). The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual conference is attended by less than 24,000 scientists and clinicians in all subdisciplines of cancer research in-person every year. The AACR 2020 meeting took place in two parts virtually with over 100,000 attendees (Virtual Meeting I (April 27–28)) and (Virtual Annual Meeting II (June 22–24)) combined from 140 countries. At peak sessions, 24,000 attendees viewed the talks at the same time. Attendance at AACR 2020 was free for all (no registration fee for researchers or non-researchers). Available data on attendees and representing countries for in-person conferences held in years prior to 2019 are shown in Figure 3—figure supplement 2.

Figure 3—figure supplement 1
Attendance to six conferences in either their in-person or virtual formats, showing both international and US attendance.

From left to right and top to bottom, attendance to the ASN annual meeting, the ICLR annual meeting, the SIIM annual meeting, the ASCO annual meeting, the ADA annual meeting and the APS annual meeting.

Figure 3—figure supplement 2
Change in attendance by number of participants and country of residence depending on the year for eight conferences that have switched to a virtual format in 2020.

From left to right and top to bottom, participants in the AACR annual meeting, participants in the EGU annual meeting, countries of residence of participants in the AACR annual meeting, countries of residence of participants in the EGU annual meeting, participants in the AAIC annual meeting, participants in the ENDO annual meeting, countries of residence of participants in the AAIC annual meeting, participants in the AIDS biennial meeting, participants in the SDB annual meeting, participants in the ASN annual meeting, countries of residence of participants in the SDB annual meeting, and participants in the ICML annual meeting,.

Virtual conferences are more inclusive and help improve the geographic diversity of attendees.

Total continent population as a percentage of the world population, total continent full time or equivalent researcher population as a percentage of world full time or equivalent researcher population (~9.94 million) as of 2018 (data source: https://en.unesco.org/node/252277), and in-person (2019) and virtual (2020) meeting attendee continental distributions are shown for the annual meetings of the International Conference for Learning Representation (ICLR), the April meeting of American Physical Society (APS), the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the Endocrine Society annual meeting (ENDO), the Photonics Online Meetup (POM), Neuromatch, the Allied Genetics Conference (TAGC), International Conference for Machine Learning (ICML). The APS 2019, ASN 2019, ICLR 2019 and ENDO 2020 meetings were held at full registeration cost of in-person meetings. The TAGC 2020, POM 2020, ASN 2020, ICLR 2020, APS 2020, ICML 2020 and Neuromatch 2020 meetings were held at low registeration cost or free of registration cost for all.

Additional files

Supplementary file 1

Acronyms and abbreviations.

Table including the acronyms and abbreviations for all scientific meetings used in the article and where each conference was held.

https://cdn.elifesciences.org/articles/62668/elife-62668-supp1-v1.xlsx

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