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Contemporary Concepts in Publishing

Remote Academia: How to Stay Connected and Productive—Virtually


Dr. Avriel Licciardi, Research Communications Strategist

February 2021

As governments and public health institutions worldwide have set social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, building and maintaining virtual connections with family, friends, and colleagues has become increasingly important. As many of us have come to recognize, with reduced opportunities to spend time together in person, remaining socially and academically connected is challenging, especially as public interactions, laboratory access, and in-person scientific conferences have become considerably limited.

Digital tools can strengthen our real-world connections

As detailed in an article in Social Media + Society, it is important to understand that certain changes in digital media and communication are likely to outlast the pandemic, and therefore one should keep an open mind regarding shifts in communication styles as well as new virtual opportunities. Perhaps a small silver lining to the COVID-19 era exists: the virus is forcing us to use the internet as it was always meant to be used, that is, to connect with one another, share information and resources, and identify collective solutions to pressing problems. While this may be true in some aspects, remaining connected in academia throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has proved difficult for many scientists thus far, especially as networking opportunities appear less available with remote scientific conferences becoming the ‘new normal’.

What options exist for establishing virtual connections as an academic during these times (and the future)? We outline a few options below. Remember, actively participating in online culture is much better than passively consuming it. Research shows that people who use social media actively—by sending messages, leaving comments or participating in group chats—report being happier and feeling more connected than individuals who simply scroll through their feeds.

Academic social networks: Various online platforms exist for individuals in academia and scientific research, such as Peeref, ResearchGate and Mendeley. These platforms, among others, allow users to engage directly with the international scientific community, thus offering opportunities for networking.
Online journal clubs: Journal clubs provide a venue to discuss the latest field-specific literature with others in your field. With advances in social media and online platforms, online journal clubs are an excellent way to unite researchers across the world; Peeref provides an opportunity to create your own online journal club with their Hub functionality. Review these 10 steps for establishing an online journal club to reestablish your lab’s weekly meetings or meet and discuss current trends in your field with international researchers.
Discussion boards: Discussion boards have been a staple of in-person and online courses for many years, and thus these forums are likely familiar to many researchers and professors. However, as mentioned above, contributing to and actively participating in discussion via these online boards is essential for generating rewarding interactions.
Virtual social gatherings: Not all remote interactions with your colleagues need to be research-oriented. Making time for a Zoom or FaceTime happy hour or social gathering with your mentor, peers, lab mates, or colleagues is another opportunity to stay social while keeping a distance.

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