A small ImmunoSensation2-intern survey about online meetings

Dear colleagues,

The current pandemic pushes us to our limits. Neither our private life nor our life at work is near to normal. An increased number of COVID-19 infected persons as well as an excess mortality (Statischisches Bundesamt, Destasis, 2021) have let to rigorous restrictions worldwide. 

The purpose of this small online survey was to show how we deal with this special situation and what we can learn from it to improve upcoming online meetings and scientific networking. In total, 54 persons (Fig. 1, a) participated and gave interesting insights into their current situation.

Fig. 1: General opinion of online meetings. a) Distribution of jobs among the total replies. b) Rating of all participants how they like online conferences (like the Cluster Science Day) during Corona. Score 1=bad, 5=good. 

The big advantage of digitalization was the quick adaptation to online meetings and conferences after the pandemic hit us. Most of the cluster members who participated in the survey prefer online conferences during this time period (Fig.1, b). Nevertheless, it is also very clear that the majority of people would favor in person conferences after the critical situation ceases (Fig.2, a). Interestingly, around 50% of the participants would prefer online conferences if the conferences take place far away. 

Fig. 2: General opinion of online meetings after the Corona pandemic. a) Rating of people who would prefer (yes) online conferences after the pandemic. b) Distribution of participants which favor (yes) online meetings after the pandemic when the conference is far away (other countries).

Online meetings seem to be the best option to continue as long as this pandemic goes on. The good thing is that most of the participants learn equally like in normal conferences (Fig.3, a). Interestingly, more than three-fourth of all participants attend online conferences alone (Fig.3, b). Sadly, the networking in general decreased dramatically (Fig.3, c). 

Fig. 3: Learning and networking in online conferences. a) Rating of the scientific learning in online conferences. Score 1=bad, 5 good. b) Distribution of how people attend online conferences. c) Networking in online conferences. Score 1=bad, 5 good. d) Preference of online lab meetings after Corona.

This survey shows a lot of advantages of online conferences. Clearly, the possibility to proceed with scientific exchange in online conferences are very important and of upmost interest to the scientific community. The accessibility of online meetings from almost every place of the world seems to be a relief for many scientists. This saves time, travel costs, decreases the CO2 footprint and makes it easier for people who can`t leave their home easily like young parents. 

Nevertheless, online conferences also have their downsides. Networking is fundamental for scientific development like discussions about the project or starting new collaborations. This affects most likely all scientists regardless of their job. PhDs need others to see their project from a different angle or talk about the problems they are facing as well as Postdocs and group leaders need a good network for the improvement of projects. Moreover, people also described their concerns of showing unpublished data and that they cannot be sure that it stays confidential.

Since online meetings have their pros and cons also online lab meetings would have the same, which is also demonstrated by the results from this survey (Fig.3, d). 

The best would be a combined version of online and in person conferences to meet everyone’s needs. I attended last year the TRR237 conference in Dresden and this was an exception during the corona summer 2020. We all got negative PCR test 48 hours prior to the start of the conference and were allowed to enter the big conference room. People from Munich could only attend the meetings online because of increasing incidences in their region. So we had to do exactly this combined version and it worked perfectly fine. Microphones and cameras were nice and the program worked without any issues. For me, this was a nice experience and how conferences could be even after Corona. 

I hope you could learn a little bit about others and how to learn from this situation.

Thank you a lot for your contribution and stay healthy!

Personal comments of you about online conferences:

Save time but kills social and scientific interactions

Online networking gives much more opportunities for people with local dependencies, such as family, children, etc. I’m more flexible, there is nothing what I can do in 3d but not in 2d. The only thing, I need some it skills, creativity and good tools for that

short online conferences (up to one hour) with not so many persons (5-8) are ok, but even better in real life

Neuromatch has a great tool that helped me network during online meetings.

I really missed the social interaction and networking. And it was also hard for me to stay focused. On the other hand, there’s also positive things like it’s less time and money consuming.

I definitely see the problem with online conferences, especially for big conferences, there is almost complete lack of networking opportunities, ‘zoom fatigue’, less control over where the presented data may end up (so less unpublished data being presented). However, I do think online conferences offer many advantages as well, in terms of convenience, price for travel (more inclusive) and comfort. For me it was a much better way to present data than the traditional ‘theatrical performance’ in person. As the lack of networking and zoom fatigue could in theory be solved by break out rooms and breaks, I would be happy to attend several conferences and meetings online and curious to see how online conferences will evolve after the pandemic.

Hybrid formats after Corona would be great

the only positive thing is that they’re cheaper and that you can invite scientists from far away for a short talk…but it still is not that good as a real conference

Easy access to talks from very renowned scientists was amazing. We didn’t have to fly to the US or Australia to hear their talk…..we just had to be in the kitchen 🙂

Even after COVID I prefer conferences to be in person meetings. However, a mixture of on/off location conferences or hybrid conferences would be best, especially for people with limiting factors regarding travel, and conferences about niche topics.

It was really difficult for me stay focused for the whole meeting as an attendant. As a speaker, it is terrible to talk to your own screen and not seeing the audience in real life. Terrible.

I definitely prefer conferences in person and hope that they will happen again at some point. Ideally, they would offer both options – in person for those who can and want to attend + streaming/recording of the talks online for people that cannot personally attend for whatever reasons (living far away, finances, childcare, ongoing experiments, etc.).

Being constantly under surveillance (camera on-duty) is exhausting. Without that, I prefer online conferences.

I can attend more conferences from a distance than before. I lost a lot of time traveling to Berlin or other cities, sometimes several times a week, and I was always tired the day after returning from the trip. The effectiveness of my work increased greatly during this time due to remote participation. I was able to do more than before. Also, through the daily group meetings we have every day now, I have learned a lot about other projects of my colleagues and we are achieving more transparency. Before the pandemic, we always had one-on-one meetings with supervisors to talk about our projects because we were geographically dispersed. Now we do it as a group, there’s no space problem. I am totally in favor of an online work style and maybe once a week there should be a face-to-face day or attending conferences in person should always be an option, but for those who can’t travel, there should be an option to attend remotely!

The survey was conducted by and the article was written by Daniel Hilbig.