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Science Communication

Welcome Back! Taking Advantage of the Post-COVID Return to In-person Meetings


Dr. Clark Holdsworth, Senior Manager Communications & Partnerships, Accdon

May 2022

The “return to normalcy” post-COVID has been discussed ad nauseum both within and outside of academic circles. There is of course much to consider in this regard for teaching, research, and service. Researchers benefit by reflecting on several aspects of this transition:

• What protocols and processes from the pandemic will be retained long-term?
• Which aspects of a pre-pandemic world do we return to?
• How do I need to prepare if I spent a significant training period (e.g., post-doctoral fellowship) within a pandemic environment?

Importantly, we need to remember that this will be a process, and—in my estimation—no aspect of research life will be slower developing than the return to in-person meetings and conferences. This is due to two characteristics: the location-specific nature of the events and their relative infrequency compared to the day-to-day research activities post-pandemic. Conferences will have interruptions based on local COVID flareups, disparate cross-board restrictions, and temporal variability of meetings across the year (e.g., spring/fall meeting splits). Collectively, this will lead to highly skewed representation at events due to both poor luck and personal circumstances. As such, it is assumed that in-person opportunities will be more impactful than ever in the short-term. With this in mind, we should focus on strategies to decrease attrition in our conference schedules and to maximize the opportunities for the early years of this transition.

Strategies for maximizing the conference season

Prioritize in-person meetings: It is tempting to schedule hybrid conferences for flexibility, or simply to continue along with virtual events for the convenience. Do not pass on the opportunity presented during the transition to in-person events—less competition for speaking slots and increased bandwidth for face-to-face networking. Build your schedule based on the available in-person conferences.

Schedule backups and pursue flexible logistics: When scheduling out the year, be sure to include all those minor conferences and regional meetings that are available. Inevitably, you will have conferences converted to virtual or cancelled outright, and you will want other options. Additionally, when scheduling flights, hotels, etc., be sure to select cancellable reservations/fares.

Show up: Once in attendance at an event, assume that this is the only one for the year. Pandemic-related cancellations are unpredictable, so you should maximize your uptimes at all events that you actually attend. Get started early, stay through as many sessions as possible, and do not skip any networking opportunities. There should be more opportunities for facetime at poster sessions as well.

Be prepared: With greater opportunities among conference participants, it is important to be prepared to discuss and interact with influential people in your field. Plan your elevator pitch regarding your research (no more than 30 seconds long), be prepared to approach and discuss graduate and post-doc opportunities, and plan specific questions for high-profile Q&As. It may also be an advantageous time to reach out to people/groups before the event and schedule a brief chat. People’s schedules may be slightly more open than in previous years.

Follow up: It has always been important to follow up on your interactions after any event, but with limited in-person opportunities, getting more out of your follow through is imperative. Be sure to follow up with all of your contacts within the first week. In particular, reach out if you are likely to connect with an individual at another event that year. Share your own updates relevant to this connection and ask them about specific developments that may be of interest to you. Limited in-person opportunities have the potential to transition into more meaningful long-term connections as the pandemic can create a strong sense of “shared-experience” between colleagues.

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