How to Navigate an Online Conference

Kish Adoni, PhD student in the School of Biosciences, recently attended a two-week online conference hosted by The American Society of Mass Spectrometry (ASMS).  He shares his experience in this post.

What do you think about online scientific conferences?

ASMS 2020 Conference logo
Logo for the ‘Rebooted’ edition of the 68th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics

It’s weird! That’s the first thing I’d say. No more loitering around the confectionary section of a big hall, waiting to speak to a professor from another university whose papers sprawl across your office desk. There is also no chance of having one too many pints of Guinness and spilling your latest confidential scientific idea to another academic in your field. I suppose whether those things are a positive or a negative depends on personal preference, but one thing is for sure: online conferences are going to become more normal and the chances are that you will attend one.

So how do online conferences work?

Take away the need for expensive flights, food, hotels and transport and you are basically left with the bare essence of what a conference is for: exchanging knowledge with experts that work in the same spheres as you. There-in lies the brilliance of online conferences, as the entire event is primed for information exchange. And I haven’t even mentioned the impact on carbon footprint yet! My conference was a summit for mass spectrometry. For chemists, physicists, biologists, mathematicians and everyone in-between that has an interest in the field, this was the main conference of the year.

Over the course of the two weeks, a carefully organised calendar was laid out which included: lectures, poster presentations, workshops, webinars and even lunchtime trivia! For each hour from 9-6 of each day, there may be five different options of mass spectrometry topic, and within that a handful of lectures! It’s safe to say there was an almost limitless reservoir of information that was getting ever bigger with each hour that passed by! But the great thing is, as everything is recorded, you can go back to any of these events at any time over the course of the two weeks – and everything is still available for a further two weeks after the conference. This is a gamechanger! As an aside, the poster presentations were a revelation! Hundreds of posters were available, together with a comments box that would privately message the writer with your question directly.

How can you get the most out of the conference?

To try to attend every event at the conference would be ambitious to say the least. And considering the breadth of topics on show, I would go as far as to say counterproductive. I don’t believe that’s what these conferences are designed for. To really engage with it, handpick your areas of interest and navigate the conference based on that. I would create a plan every morning before the conference started, based on what I wanted to get out of the day. Personally, I wanted to develop my technical understanding of mass spectrometry, learn about novel methods within proteomics-based mass spectrometry and improve my knowledge of an ion mobility technique called FAIMS. My daily routine would be mapped out with a coffee and some toast, based on these three underlying themes.

How did I find it?

Very useful, I was able to selectively hone in on the information that I wanted to absorb in a way that would be so difficult had I flown out to the US for the real thing. The recording of every event played a huge part in my conference. If I didn’t understand a theory as it was being described, I could pause and think – literally. Anyone that has tried to learn a song on guitar using YouTube will understand the huge benefit of this feature!

Would I recommend it?

 Yes. if there are any online conferences that tickle your fancy, I would urge you to attend. You may actually learn more than in a normal conference.

Have you attended an online conference?  Share your experiences below!

3 thoughts on “How to Navigate an Online Conference”

  1. Thanks for the information, very helpful! I have a conference coming up that I organised a session for and am presenting twice, so I definitely need as much advice as I can find! Take good care.


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