Plant Postdocs started the journey as an organization in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic. At the beginning, our goal was to organize virtual webinars, seminars, and career sessions, where postdocs could share their works and sessions about job opportunities and professional development. As a small start-up organization with leadership team members from different institutions, internet was the only way for us to reach our peers. But, back in our mind we knew that it is challenging to organize and run every event online. People are not very used to the idea of virtual events, and most importantly not properly equipped and comfortable.
At the beginning of the 2020, the COVID-19 spread forced universities and institutes to go online and cancel in-person classes and seminars. Even before the lockdown was announced in February, we scheduled our first two virtual seminars. By March 2020, when we had our first webinar, serendipitously it was the first few weeks of pandemic lockdown. To our surprise, the timing for a virtual webinar could not be better than that. That was the beginning of the virtual webinar series of Plant Postdocs. We had a really good participation and feedback from the community, but we also realized there is room to improve, a better way to reach our peers, and engage the community.
Besides the events organized in each month or semester, we created the day to day communication platform on Slack. Slack is very organized to keep our conversation focused in different channels. Like any other virtual platform, Slack took time to become a popular way of communication among scientific society. Plant Postdocs’ experience is no different in this case. Compared to our official Twitter platform (which has more than 5k followers), we have currently 300+ members on Slack. We post our activities on both platforms, Twitter and Slack; and we do not want anyone to miss important events and updates just because they are not present or active in one of those platforms. In addition, we have an autobot in our Slack as a channel, where all of our tweets appear automatically. Although the group is smaller in Slack, so far this is the best way to do the community conversation and pin the link of important resources as well.
Since the beginning to recent days, unfortunately we are not completely out of COVID-19 era. This practically means no in-person conferences for two academic years. However, the Plant Postdocs’ webinars were an opportunity for postdocs to present their work when in-person conferences were canceled. The cancellation of in-person events led people to adapt better for the virtual events. Over the time, we have observed that panelists and participants are more engaged and comfortable in virtual events. Even as a regular organizer, we find it easier to organize events these days compared to the beginning.
Virtual events helped us to keep going through the difficult pandemic lockdown time. At the same time, everyone’s schedule was full of multiple Zoom events in a day. Too many virtual events caused “Zoom fatigue” in the meantime. As a matter of fact, most virtual events started to observe less and less participants over the time. Plant Postdocs’ events were no exception in this case. To overcome the declining participants, we have decided to diversify our webinar topics.
Our organization is dedicated to postdocs in the plant biology field. At the beginning, we used to organize two career webinars, one about academic jobs and another for industry/Government jobs, in each semester. Along with Zoom fatigue, highlighting similar topics in the webinars again and again made it monotonous to our regular participants. To overcome this issue, we organized webinars on scientific writing and editing, preparation for postdoctoral fellowship. At the same time, we started to invite panelists from start-up biotech companies, Assistant professors from PUIs (Primarily Undergraduate Institutions), and journal editors. Diversifying the webinar topics and broadening the panelists helped us to regain the participants in our virtual webinars.
As a scientist, we perform experiments every day and learn through our mistakes and experiences. Organizing virtual events is a similar experience for Plant Postdocs as an organization. Over the two and half years, Plant Postdocs not only provided resources for the community, but also created a model system to follow and retain participants in this evolving era of virtual scientific events.
We believe the story of Plant Postdocs is an ideal example for non-profit scientific organization in this evolving era of science communication. We are committed to serve our community in future by providing resources, such as workshops, webinars, and training for ECRs, creating a platform for postdocs to present their work in our monthly seminar series, promoting pre-print and PREreview, and making the platform accessible to everyone.