International Day for Climate Action: How I attended a conference remotely

To celebrate the International Day for Climate Action, and the 10 year anniversary of its creators 350.org, we have been chatting to Louise Rutterford, a PhD student studying the response of marine systems to climate change at the University of Exeter. Louise recently presented a poster at conference remotely, from the comfort of her own home. 

Here she shares her experiences:

In early September I presented a poster at the annual International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in Gothenburg virtually (by skype). The session was a great success, not least due to the great support from the ICES team and hosting venue. I caught up with existing colleagues, met some new faces, found a new team working on similar projects to me and received the all-important constructive criticism of, and advice about, my work – so all the great bits conferences offer in a snapshot!

The session worked really well because the host organisation were keen to test this as a way to reduce travel and were totally on board with the set up. And I was kept busy as colleagues highlighted relevant parts of my work to each other and encouraged people to come and find me.

The session felt pretty intense from my end as I was tied to the screen, so no forays to the bar to absorb ideas and pointers for me! But everyone who spoke to me was incredibly supportive and, as usual at conferences, open to discussion, providing advice and helping to explain challenging concepts.

The set up at the conference venue.

I chose to attend the conference remotely for 2 reasons.

Primarily, I, Exeter and Bristol universities know that we need to radically reduce our impacts on the environment, especially our emissions. By not travelling to the conference I have conservatively reduced my research-based emissions by about 326kg [1] and [gwr.com] and saved about £900 of project funds in total.

Secondly, I have 2 young children and work part-time – it wasn’t realistic for me to travel to the conference and support my family during my sons first week at school. Attending the conference remotely meant I didn’t have to choose between work and family at this important time.

I do appreciate that by not attending the conference in person I missed hearing about new research from others as I couldn’t see the presentation sessions (something the event hosts hope to do in future) and developing relationships and projects with colleague over several days. However, I do feel that I was able to benefit from the conference experience as a remote attendee due to the openness and enthusiasm of colleagues in engaging and sharing ideas with me. Thank you ICES!

 

So, on to the practicalities!

Initially I planned to attend the conference and submitted my abstract as normal, through the web portal.

Once I had been accepted to present my poster I notified the conference hosts that I was keen to trial remote attendance, well before the application deadline. The hosts responded promptly and positively. As I was a guinea pig and the only link was for the poster session they agreed to waive the conference attendance fee in full.

The session relied on the openness of the hosts to set up a remote link and provide equipment. Next to my poster they supplied a laptop, high table and headset with a speaker. And on the day we tested the technology was working before the session started. I was set up in a quiet and well lit room with a strong internet connection (See above image).

To encourage people to come and talk to me I used the event #hashtag on Twitter to share my research and to encourage people to come and find me (on-screen!). In addition to this my presence and the relevance of my work was shared with appropriate people by word of mouth during the session (my thanks to the pushers!).

Louise used social media and the conference hashtag to encourage people to visit her and her poster

 

At the end of the session the team from ICES came and had a debrief chat which saved me from waiting for more delegates when they’d all headed out to the pub…!

I was busy talking to people for most of the poster session and alongside meeting people outside of my specialism, who provided a novel perspective on my work, I also connected with at least 5 people who are well equipped to critique and help to develop my work alongside theirs, some of whom I am in touch with, and picking the brains of, still.

#greatfortheplanet #greatforfamily #stillgoodforscience

Louise was still able connect with other delegates while attending remotely

For future opportunities like this it would be good to:

  • Make sure the internet connection is really strong as a few times the screen froze and conversation was disjointed.
  • Provide sound cancelling headphones with a speaker at the conference end to ensure delegates could hear over the hubbub.
  • Use a reliable courier service for the poster to be sent (Post Office failed me this time… but the venue (Gothia Towers) team pulled it out of the bag – THANK YOU!)
  • Include sign-posting to highlight the presenter on the screen so that people know where to look (mine was lost with the poster…)
  • Encourage use of the text messaging facility of the call service – this was a great way to get accurate spelling of names and links to papers etc. You can’t see past the shiny reflections on name tags.
  • Possibly host remotely presented posters in a small, low echo space so that people at the conference end can hear – as long as delegates are encouraged to use the space and engage.

Thanks Louise! 

You can keep up to date with Louise’s work on Twitter @LouRutters

#ExeterMarine is an interdisciplinary group of marine related researchers with capabilities across the scientific, biological,  medical, engineering, humanities and social science fields.

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References:

  1. Eco passenger. 2019 [cited 2019 14.10.19]; Available from: http://www.ecopassenger.org/bin/query.exe/en?ld=uic-eco&L=vs_uic&seqnr=3&ident=33.0267491.1571047646&OK#focus.

 

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