Webinar Report: Reforming academic conferences

In this month’s webinar our speakers discussed what can be done to reform the conference experience for both organisers and participants.

Conferences serve as a platform for researchers to present new discoveries and gain visibility among colleagues outside their institution, if not across the globe. However, the format and the organisation of many in-person conferences excludes the participation of many researchers.

In this webinar our panellists discussed the challenges scientists face with the current format of many conferences and why it’s important to advocate for changes that could be made to make them both more accessible and more effective for attendees.

Chaired by:

Vinodh Ilangovan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and member of the eLife Early-Career Advisory Group.

About the speakers:

Aneth David, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Aneth is an early career research scientist and an academician in agricultural biotechnology at University of Dar es Salaam. She is currently training as a PhD student at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), investigating plant-soil microbiome-insects interactions by using maize “push-pull” farming system as a model. Her research focuses on promoting sustainable food production using beneficial soil microorganisms. She is an eLife Ambassador and the first Next Einstein Forum science ambassador for Tanzania. She co-founded the Tanzania Society of Human Genetics, where she is also part of the executive committee.

She enjoys mentoring and inspiring young people in science and technology, especially young girls, through platforms such as social media, blogging (http://www.anethdavd.wordpress.com) and activities like workshops and training.

When not in the lab Aneth reads a lot, likes to travel and share knowledge. She is passionate about science as well as diversity and inclusion in science/academia.

Humberto Debat, National Institute of Agricultural Technology, Argentina

Humberto is a researcher at the Institute of Plant Pathology in the Center of Agronomic Research, National Institute of Agricultural Technology in Argentina. Humberto studies the interface of viruses and crops from a holobiont perspective. He is interested in novel approaches to reduce losses associated with plant diseases and passionate about understanding an expanding global virosphere. Humberto is an ASAPbio and eLife Community Ambassador and a bioRxiv affiliate. Humberto advocates for open science practices and access to scientific knowledge as a human right.

Emily Lescak, Code for Science and Society, United States

Emily Lescak is the Data Science Community Conference and Events Fund Program Manager at Code for Science and Society, where she is developing a program to support conferences and events that promote inclusive practices and broaden participation in open research-driven data science communities. She has nearly 10 years of experience working in research data science focused on population genetics, evolution, and management of Alaskan fish populations. Emily has a strong background in mentoring and leadership in science advocacy initiatives.

You can read Emily's blog post, 'Challenges and opportunities in transitioning in-person meetings online', which summaries her talking points and continues the discussion following the webinar.

Sarvenaz Sarabipour, Johns Hopkins University

Sarvenaz is a postdoctoral fellow in the Mac Gabhann Lab at the Institute for Computational Medicine and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University. She earned her B.Sc. in Physics and Mathematics from University of Sydney, Australia, her M.Sc. from Université de Sherbrooke, Canada and her PhD in Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. Sarvenaz builds multiscale computational models of receptor signaling networks in cell and tissue contexts. These models will enable design of specific systems-level molecular vascular interventions to control angiogenesis in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She is an advocate for early career researchers, open-science, mentorship, diversity, and reproducibility initiatives.

Samantha Seah, European Molecular Biology Laboratories, Heidelberg

Samantha is a PhD student at the European Molecular Biology Laboratories in Heidelberg, Germany. Her research focuses on developing technologies for antibody screening utilising droplet microfluidics. She is passionate about improving environmental sustainability in various aspects of science, and about diversity and equality in STEM.

If you are interested in reading further about facilitating inclusive events, there are several resources on our website:


We welcome comments, questions and feedback. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

Interested in our full selection of #ECRWednesday webinars, on topics such as preprints, finding funding and more? Take a look at the collection of past reports and recordings.