About the 2022 qMRI Conference and how it was created
The 2022 qMRI Conference was organized by Dr. Mallar Chakravarty, Dr. Christine Tardif, Dr. Christopher Rowley, Aurélie Bussy, and Olivier Parent to create a platform for passionate qMRI researchers from different labs around the globe to share their work and network with each other. Topics discussed in the conference included acquisition techniques, such as multiparametric mapping, T2* and quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM), diffusion MRI, vascular imaging (cerebral vascular reactivity), myelin water imaging, and reproducibility in qMRI (the latter of which we covered on the OHBM blog and the Neurosalience podcast). If you missed the conference, or want to see the recorded talks again, you can find them on the conference YouTube channel. This conference not only provides an environment to establish new potential collaborations, but also offers the opportunity to listen to technical and application-oriented talks specific to qMRI. The conference paid special attention to trainees, encouraging them to give talks and submit qMRI-specific abstracts.
What are the benefits of a focused conference?
This platform allows for keynote-level exposure for researchers and trainees whose interest may not necessarily be highlighted at a larger conference. At a focused conference, their niche and special interests work can be put in the spotlight. The organizers enjoyed reaching out to the speakers and seeing their enthusiasm, but also greatly benefited by having internal discussions and thinking about the directions of their field. This type of focused conference not only benefits the attendees, but also the organizers.
Sometimes, larger conferences are an easy place to get distracted. Focused conferences can complement that experience by inviting researchers from a specific area to network and showcase their research. The focused meeting format is a great way to answer and address open questions, especially those that require collaborative effort. This also allows researchers to focus on building connections between labs based on their research interests, which might not be possible at larger conferences or due to limited meeting opportunities. It is easier to foster these relationships with researchers that have similar questions and interests.
The pros of an online platform for a virtual conference, generally, include international accessibility, low cost, control over recording and moderating, and the ability to host informal conversations and trainee talks. However, some of these pros can also become cons. The ability to moderate and control the conference on virtual platforms helps the talks to be short and targeted, but such restrictions on participant interaction may hinder social engagement within the audience and with the speakers. The qMRI conference organizers mitigated this challenge by designating moderators in the chat to interact with attendees and to ensure a smooth flow of conversation. However, while this may seem somewhat limiting, online platforms are more inclusive (and sustainable), as they can engage a larger international community and do not require travel funds or registration fees.
How long does it take to organize a focused meeting?
The organizers suggested that the organization of the conference should take a little more than 6 months to plan, call for abstracts, and invite speakers. They cautioned future organizers to be mindful of other major conference deadlines, which can hinder planning and overlap with the deadlines of the event. After a great discussion with the organizers, a major question for future organizers of virtual conferences remains: what is the optimal number of days for a virtual conference to keep the maximum amount of engagement? A lesson that the organizers learned after this conference is that people’s online attention span is low and so keeping things short and targeted, and including several breaks is a great way to maintain engagement.
Lessons Learned from the qMRI Conference
There is a lot to learn from the qMRI Conference! The organizers highlighted a few aspects of the conference that were very successful: sessions were only two hours long (each with four 30-minute talks), with a one and a half hour break in between, which kept the audience engaged over three days. Further, by obtaining external funding for advertisements, they were able to recruit a variety of very motivated trainees who particularly benefited from the open discussion periods and a new platform. Finally, the organizers overcame a large hurdle for online conferences by arranging the time-slots to be suitable for a global audience. The success of this strategy was confirmed by an after-conference survey and the attendance of approximately 500 international attendees - a very good retention rate for an online conference!
The future of virtual conferences
The qMRI Conference is a great example for future meetings to learn from, and the takeaways from this discussion can be used to enhance virtual endeavors at OHBM. This conference also demonstrates the importance and relevance of focused events: Such events about niche interests not only help in building a strong, targeted community, and keeping this community developing and engaged, but also promote work that might not get the main attention at large conferences. While these meetings have a specialized target audience, they can also bring attention and interest to smaller research areas. In other words, these types of conferences are built for a specific community, but can also build a community. Utilizing OHBM’s platforms and variety of committees as a means to accessing these individuals is extremely powerful in building and maintaining niche communities. OHBM can expand its offerings with smaller pre-conference virtual meetings across the year, with the 2022 qMRI Conference being a great example of its utility and importance.
Questions for the team? Contact qMRIconference@gmail.com
Interested in viewing 2020 virtual OHBM components? Click here!
For those looking for an introduction to qMRI, this recent NeuroSalience podcast with Nikola Stikov provides an excellent overview: https://www.ohbmbrainmappingblog.com/blog/neurosalience-s2-ep3-nikola-stikov-physicist-engineer-open-scientist-communicator
For those interested in reading more on reproducibility, please see the below resources: https://www.ohbmbrainmappingblog.com/blog/ohbm-on-demand-how-to-reproducibility-and-good-neuroimaging-practices; https://www.ohbmbrainmappingblog.com/blog/july-23rd-2021; https://www.ohbmbrainmappingblog.com/blog/neurosalience-10-fmri-data-sharing-best-practices-and-reproducibility
Editing lead: Simon Steinkamp