Virtual conferencesThe clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it easier for people to participate and have even reduced their environmental footprint, according to a recent study.
The study is published in the Nature Sustainability Journal.
A research team led by engineers at the University of Texas at Austin analyzed several scientific conferences that first went virtual in the early months of the pandemic. Researchers looked at the environmental, social, and economic costs of virtual conferencing compared to personal events and analyzed how online change changed the participation of women, early-stage researchers, and researchers from under-represented institutions and countries.
The study found that virtual events reduced costs and reduced time and travel commitments that had previously prevented some conferences from attracting different groups of participants. The environmental costs of hundreds or thousands of people flying around the world to attend the conference were also eliminated.
“When we went to the virtual, it brought a lot more sounds to the table that just couldn’t be present at on-site events due to cost, time, and other reasons,” he said. Kasey Faust, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering.
The cost of personal participation by African researchers in several recent conferences averaged 80 to 250 percent of their country’s annual GDP, compared to about 3 percent per capita. US participants.
In addition to costs, personal events require a huge investment of time. These events required travel, which often lasted several days and took all the time of the participants while they were present.
“This can be a big challenge, especially for women. For many younger workers, this period of life coincided with a time when many had children. This made it challenging for women to attend conferences,” said Faust, who also has two. young children.
According to the study, women’s participation in virtual conferences increased by as much as 253 percent compared to previous face-to-face meetings. And from the academic world, the participation of students and postdoctoral researchers increased by as much as 344 percent.
The scale of the climate impact was also amazing. The researchers estimated that only one in-person conference participant had the same environmental footprint as the average of the conferences analyzed in 2019 than the 7,000 virtual conference participants.
The researchers said the virtual events opened up opportunities for greater international participation, constrained by costs and travel documents. For example, one woman in the study, who was a mother of young children, said she did not need travel documents to travel outside the country, which prevented her from attending conferences around the world.
“He was able to network more than he has ever networked in the last year, and that would never have happened in a personal conference,” he said. Manum Kumar, Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Environmental Engineering.
The group included researchers from UT Austin, the University of Ottawa, the University of Arizona, Cornell University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Southern California. The study was originally launched to evaluate the surprisingly successful annual meeting of the North American Membrane Society (NAMS) in May 2020, one of the first virtual conferences. The authors expanded the study to personally compare virtual participation to the NAMS meeting and several other design conferences.
The study identified many benefits of virtual conferencing, but challenges remained. These include a lack of commitment and a lack of personal networking. About 75 percent of participants in one scientific conference and 96 percent in another scientific conference said they preferred networking in person and that virtual sessions seemed unfair and artificial.
One-on-one conferences are starting to return, but researchers expect many events to create a hybrid offering, possibly at a lower cost.
“Technology companies are already doing this in their events,” Kumar said.
“Smart people connect their events at least to some extent,” Kumar added.