More than a year and a half after the first COVID-19 restrictions were set in place, we are finally in a position where we can once again, tentatively, look forward to meeting and sharing our science face-to-face (albeit with those faces probably still masked). That said, not everyone is yet ready or able to get back to in-person gatherings, and if there is anything that the pandemic has taught us, it is the importance of staying flexible in uncertain situations. It is too early to know for sure what next year will bring, but with the abstract deadline fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about what your next OHBM annual meeting will look like.
The upcoming OHBM2022 annual meeting will be a ‘best-of-both-worlds’ event, comprising a fully in-person programme with some hybrid features AND a fully virtual component for those not physically present. Through the previous two meetings, we have built up a wealth of experience on what does and doesn’t work in online spaces. Last year’s Technology Task Force created ‘Planet Brain’ - an interactive alien environment, with many features familiar to us from real-life conferences. Once the initial technical issues were ironed out, feedback for this format was mixed; it was very positive for many, but really unsatisfactory for others. We know that whatever platform is selected for 2022, the mission of bridging the virtual experience with an in-person event requires careful, thoughtful work.
Specially assigned to this mission is the newly formed OHBM 2022 Virtual Integration Taskforce (VITF), enlisting the help of volunteer leaders who will coordinate with the Program Committee in deciding how OHBM2022 meeting content will be distributed through our online and in-person spaces.
Mallar Chakravarty and Christophe Phillips will co-chair the VITF, and they have recruited 10 additional Task Force members representing a broad range of OHBM committees and SIGs, geographical locations and career stages:
They are supported in their work by Trish Shomion and Michael Mulally from the Executive Office.
Goals of the VITF
“The work of the VITF is to examine what the workflows are for managing a fully virtual meeting. Part of our mandate is to work in collaboration with Council and the Program Committee to be certain that we can actualize a hybrid meeting, while still maintaining the vision that our society has for a scientifically stimulating program. We believe by doing so, we can potentially provide a template for how scientific organizations may run meetings in the future given lingering post-pandemic, environmental, and accessibility concerns.”
- Mallar Chakravarty, VITF co-chair
Assuming the pandemic situation permits travel to and gathering in Glasgow by a sufficiently large number of attendees (stay tuned for future communications that will articulate how we implement “sufficiently”), the meeting will be structured as an in-person event, with all talks planned to be given live at the actual venue. The VITF has been asked by the Program Committee to plan for live-streaming of the main program elements including the Taliarach lecture, keynotes and symposia. Questions for speakers could then come both from in-person attendees and people watching via the live-stream. Additionally, the VITF will be supporting the Program Committee as they plan an asynchronous, fully virtual event. This will allow more OHBM members to submit abstracts while being confident that they will be able to present their work and network whether or not they can attend in person.
“... The complication really stems from the double "hybrid+online conference" format, with the on-site event being also accessible remotely and then a[n asynchronous] fully virtual event. The hybrid event calls for careful planning of ex cathedra presentations (keynotes, symposiums, morning workshops) as various combinations of onsite/online speakers must be considered for streaming to both a local and online audience. Regarding the fully virtual event, the poster session is the part we are really trying to improve with a more engaging format.”
- Christophe Phillips, VITF co-chair
There are several other key areas that the VITF will explore. For example, they are considering extending our contract with Sparkle to support some of the features that were highly successful for the 2021 OHBM meeting, such as the integration of the Open Science Room and other OS-SIG activities, the Brain Art exhibit and competition, and the online availability of recorded content.
Smaller interactions facilitated by poster sessions can be a little hit-and-miss in virtual format, so the VITF are also paying particular attention to the design of fully virtual poster sessions that will be in addition to the traditional poster sessions during the in-person meeting. These additional, fully virtual poster sessions will be held at a date outside of the in-person meeting schedule.
OHBM leadership is committed to delivering an outstanding meeting in Glasgow, with planning well underway. At the same time, we hear loud and clear the need to serve the large constituency who will attend virtually in 2022. This is very much a ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ situation, so we will be sure to keep you all updated with any new information or developments as we get closer to the event itself - stay tuned, folks.
If you have any comments, suggestions or ideas on ways to best facilitate our hybrid conference, please direct them to Mallar and Chris by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.