Alfie Wearn and Yohan Yee
It’s May already, and that means one thing: OHBM 2022 is less than two months away. After two years of virtual-only conferencing, we are ready and excited to return to an in-person meeting! We are extremely excited to augment the “in-person” meeting -- for the first time -- with an online hybrid experience that supports the many individuals who will participate remotely.
For all attendees, virtual and in-person, the most complete poster hall experience will happen on June 7th and 8th when all posters will be ‘live’ with the presenting author(s) during their assigned time slots. The virtual poster session will be an important moment at this meeting and will be the only (and ideal!) time to interact with poster presenters who are attending virtually. For in-person registrants, there will be our usual, wonderful live poster hall standby times, but only posters submitted by in-person registrants will be available in the poster hall in Glasgow (uploaded posters will still be available to view remotely). In-person registrants will have the benefit (and responsibility) to attend all 4 of their assigned stand-by times (2 time zones virtually and 2 in Glasgow).
As a special kick-off to the virtual component of our hybrid meeting, the opening session on June 7th features the presentation of the inaugural Karl Zilles Award in Integrative Neuroscience. This new award honors a PhD student or postdoctoral fellow for their research integrating modern neuroanatomical approaches with multi-modal in-vivo neuroimaging. And our first Keynote speaker, Yina Ma, will present her work integrating empirical studies (neuroimaging, behavioral, genomic, etc.) of social and emotional processing with public, cross cultural and mental health issues to promote wellbeing and treatment for mental disorders. The schedule for this exciting virtual component is designed to work for participants across multiple timezones. You can see the schedule for the virtual component with hours in your time zone here:
To make all this possible, the Virtual Integration Task Force (VITF) has been working hard at implementing a platform that provides the best possible online experience to complement the in-person gathering. You can read more about the VITF in a previous blog post. Here, we provide some recent updates from the VITF:
The new online platform
Despite an initial intention to return to last year’s ‘Planet Brain’ to host OHBM 2022 online, unforeseen circumstances made it impossible to reuse our existing Sparkle platform. Multiple alternatives have been explored, and after thorough testing, ‘Fourwaves’ has ultimately been chosen to host our online conference.
“Fourwaves quickly emerged as the best choice that we think will address the needs of the OHBM community. Critical to this decision is the fact that the platform is especially tailored for scientific poster sessions. It was created by scientists for other scientists, so they knew exactly what is needed….
... Fourwaves will provide us with a wealth of experience in the virtual aspects, content management, and platform support during the meeting that will be really beneficial to the user experience for OHBM 2022.”
- VITF co-chairs, Mallar Chakravarty and Christophe Phillips.
In short, the experience for users will be completely different from last year, but with the amount of planning and hard work the VITF has put into this, we look forward to the virtual component of the conference being a great success!
What will attendees do on the virtual meeting platform?
Whether this is your first experience with online conferences, or you have experienced many over the last few years, it is safe to say that there is always apprehension before a conference as to exactly how it will work.
“During the hybrid meeting in Glasgow, most pre-recorded material will be made available to in-person and remote attendees, through the web platform. 2022 Educational Courses will be offered to in person attendees only; however, they will be made available OnDemand to members following the meeting. For practical and financial reasons, the interactive hybrid part will be limited to talks given in the main conference hall in Glasgow. This means that all keynotes, one symposium, and one oral session per day will be accessible in real time remotely. Importantly, everyone will be able to interact with the speaker(s) and session chair using the OHBM mobile application [both the meeting website and mobile app will be available June 1st to registered attendees] that we have used in past in-person meetings. The job of the chairperson will thus be even more important in coalescing the questions.”
The new Fourwaves platform provides a one-stop-shop for all conference material, and being specially designed around poster presentations should provide the smoothest poster experience possible. As the VITF chairs note, participants joining virtually during the hybrid meeting will also be able to view and interact with events happening in the main auditorium, and will be able to access other uploaded content remotely. The wealth of content being made available to virtual participants can be seen in the schedule for the hybrid meeting in Glasgow:
Additionally, the VITF chairs had this to say about this year’s hybrid poster sessions:
“Every poster presenter will have their own booth with the poster itself and pre-recorded short presentation, or any other material they would like to make available. At the assigned stand-by time, each booth will become a mini-meeting room with video, chat and more. Attendees will be able to save their favorite posters, search and filter them on various criteria and leave messages and questions for presenters. This will hopefully bring an experience that somewhat aligns with the in-person experience of the poster hall. The posters will also remain accessible during the online and in-person meeting in Glasgow.”
Information for presenters
Presenters should take note of some important upcoming dates:
“The Fourwaves platform is built to enable each poster presenter and speaker to upload their own materials. For poster presenters, that means uploading a PDF of your poster along with an optional 3 minute video by May 23, 2022 (Extended from May 9) to be able to participate in the virtual poster presentations on June 7th and 8th. All keynote, symposia and Educational Course speakers must also upload their pre-recorded talks by May 23rd.
CHANGES will be allowed until May 31, but at that time all content will be considered final for the Virtual Meeting happening June 7th and 8th. The Virtual meeting website will open to all attendees on June 1 to allow everyone to ‘favorite’ posters to make them easier to find during the live sessions.
The posters will be available on the meeting website through the end of the Annual Meeting and beyond. In the spirit of inclusivity and accessibility, we are trying to have a complete and robust virtual poster hall experience for ALL attendees, regardless of whether they travel to Glasgow or not.”
Having a conference in hybrid format creates a little extra work for presenters and some earlier deadlines than with solely in-person conferences.
“This is to ensure that the content is triaged and distributed where it should be. With about 2000+ posters, this is not something that can be improvised at the last minute. For speakers who will be delivering content in person, we ask that their talk be pre-recorded. It is critical that we have back-ups given how rapidly situations can change in the current context…”
The cost of this extra effort should be balanced against the benefits of being able to reach a global audience with a hybrid format and to have recorded content available outside of the actual session times.
Challenges of creating a hybrid conference
If you think the extra task of presenting in both virtual and in-person settings is a lot of work, know that even more went into setting up the infrastructure that supports our meeting! We asked the VITF chairs about the challenges they faced in organizing the hybrid meeting:
“Organizing a virtual and/or hybrid meeting is much more difficult than we anticipated. Technically most pieces of the solution exist but articulating them in a smooth and efficient way for the best experience for OHBM attendees is not straightforward.”
“... Managing and funneling all the material from the attendees is no small feat as one must automate that process as much as possible, again because of the sheer number of files to deal with. The procedure should also be easy and intuitive to use, while also accommodating the diversity of file formats (e.g. PDF, PPT).”
Last year, the ‘Planet Brain’ system experienced considerable technical issues at the start of the conference. When asked if any uncertainties remained about the running of this year’s new online platform, the VITF chairs said:
“Every conference has hiccups and challenges. We fully expect some issues to emerge when things get really moving, in particular because most presenters upload their poster, video, pictures, etc. close to the deadline. Still, these should only be hiccups. Thanks to our careful planning, and given the experience of Fourwaves with other academic conferences, we believe that we can mitigate some of these issues.”
Despite these challenges, it is entirely possible that this ‘best-of-both-worlds’ approach will become a mainstay of academic conferences in the future.
“Effectively it would make sense to have an OHBM ‘Virtual Integration’ committee with people serving for a few years to ensure a continuity in the effort and provide the time to converge on a good solution to serve the community. We also need a clear vision for future meetings, and this committee should be in a place to execute that vision.”
As we continue to iron out recurring issues and learn what works and what doesn’t, there is great potential for everyone to benefit from the hybrid conference model going forward.
We hope that this post has increased your enthusiasm about the hybrid conference, and look forward to seeing you there virtually and/or in-person! To summarize the main points:
Thanks to the VITF chairs Christophe Phillips and Mallar Chakravarty for their comments, OHBM Chair Randy Gollub for providing additional details, and Elizabeth DuPre for help in drafting this post. Finally, we would like to thank the rest of the virtual integration task force for their hard work in making the hybrid experience possible: Alex Fornito, Anne Billot, Daniel Marguiles, Desiree Lussier, Hyang Woon Lee, Johanna Bayer, Marie-Eve Hoeppli, Rosanna Olsen & Simon Eickhoff