When COVID-19 hit Europe, it quickly became clear that holding scientific conferences was not going to be possible (or responsible) for some time, and that we weren’t going to be able to gather in September for Development’s 4th From Stem Cells to Human Development conference. Having been deeply involved in this meeting series since its conception, I was gutted – I love helping to bring this growing community together, I love the venue we were planning to use, and I love all the exciting science I get to hear about. So the question became – should we cancel/postpone the meeting, or should we try and arrange it in virtual format? To be honest, I wasn’t that excited about a virtual conference – what’s made this meeting so enjoyable in the past has been the relaxed and collaborative atmosphere, and the opportunity to talk science (and life!) over posters, dinner and drinks; how do you recapitulate that online? But then our events team introduced me to Remo – an online conferencing platform that really does give you the opportunity for these kinds of informal interactions (though sadly doesn’t provide the drinks…!).
I don’t want to sound like a sales rep for Remo, but what’s great about it is that you get to sit at a virtual table with other conference attendees and chat with them by video. You can also see who’s sitting at other tables, and move around to find the people you want to meet. So in a similar way as you’d bump into someone in the coffee queue at a conference, you can seek out your friends and collaborators (or hoped-for future collaborators/mentors etc) in the Remo space. You can also find a spot for one-to-one video chat and show someone your latest results by screen-sharing. And of course, you can watch talks, put questions to the speakers and engage in discussion after a presentation.
All this to say that we think (hope!) we’ve found a format for a virtual conference that will make it more than just another set of zoom webinars or Slack chats. For our September meeting (more details in the poster below), we’ve got a fantastic line-up of speakers, slots for short talks selected from abstracts, and we’ll be running poster sessions too (again with video chat). Because of the interactive format, there’s a limit to how many people can attend – we also hope this will help to reinforce the collegial atmosphere of the meeting, and encourage people to present unpublished results. So if you’re interested in human development and want to meet with a bunch of other people with similar interests, get your application in soon – the deadline is 17 July!