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Business & Education Business, Mass Spectrometry, COVID-19

Steel City Science – and the Return of the Physical Event

How confident were you at the beginning of the year that physical events would be possible in September 2021?

The BMSS was very apprehensive about committing to a physical event in 2021 with the concomitant financial liability; however, as a Society we were resolute in our determination to try and revive a face-to-face event in 2021 – if at all possible!

What are the major challenges of holding a physical event in current times?

In attempting to architect a face-to-face event in September 2021, the BMSS was acutely aware of the ever-shifting sands of HMG regulations. We were also concerned about the risk averse approach that many of our prospective delegates’ institutions were adopting with regard to staff participation at physical events. Consequently, we employed a prudent approach in developing the 41st Annual Meeting. We opted for a compact two-day format – shorter than our traditional (pre-COVID) 3-day arrangement – and decided to host all posters online. For the first time, we also included a digital channel to enable our members to access recorded talks remotely. 

Back in April, the Society was not able to predict the COVID regulatory landscape in September, and so BMSS41 was designed with provision for social distancing if necessary. Despite the two-day format, BMSS41 featured two plenary lectures, 12 keynote lectures, 36 contributed talks, six partner presentations, 30 flash presentations, and an inclusive social evening!

How do you see virtual events fitting into the events landscape moving forward? Have people learned to love them or will things return to the pre-COVID normal?

The immediacy of personal interaction, the subtlety of subliminally observed body language, and the sheer pleasure of doing science face-to-face at major annual meetings will not be superseded by virtual conferencing in the foreseeable future. Supplementing such events with remote digital access channels, for those who cannot travel, is a positive enhancement and will likely continue post-COVID.

Small virtual events (for example, Special Interest Group meetings via ZOOM), lasting no more than a couple of hours, have been adopted as positive enhancements to the scientific landscape and are likely to become enduring fixtures in our diaries long after the pandemic has been brought under control.

But consider the Roar of the Bar and the Smell of the Crowd…The social imperative impels us to seek out the company of our peers, to vigorously discuss our science, and engage in “networking” events. The desire of the BMSS community to resume traditional events is undimmed!

What were some of your highlights from the event?

My colleague Rian Griffiths (BMSS Papers Secretary) put together a super program for this year’s Annual Meeting with many highlights, but I really enjoyed two sessions in particular. 

Firstly “Collaborative Mass Spectrometry in the Time of COVID - The Detection of Diagnostic and Prognostic Markers” by Professor Perdita Barran. Clearly, a very timely topic! 

Secondly, I very much enjoyed the Chair’s Invited Lecture “The Application of Mouse Spectrometry to Animal Behaviour” by Professor Jane L. Hurst OBE. I have known Jane socially for many years and am intrigued by her work on the role of scent communication between mammals. For those unfamiliar with Jane’s work, I recommend listening to her podcast in the Life Scientific Series: BBC Sounds (1). 

For those who don't know (possibly the majority of our community), what exactly is a “Pie & Pea Supper?”

Pie and peas is a traditional meal from the north of England, consisting of an individual meat pie served with mushy peas and gravy, seasoned with an optional dash of Henderson’s Relish – Sheffield’s unique contribution to the culinary canon. Southerners are advised not to allow the term Worcestershire Sauce to pass their lips whilst within Sheffield’s City limits as this may provoke an impolite “invitation to withdraw” from the assembled company!

Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

I would sincerely like to thank all of my BMSS colleagues and the Society’s members for making BMSS41 happen! Together, we have successfully navigated the challenges of COVID-19 and achieved a healthy attendance. This bodes well for the resumption of the Society’s classic three-day Annual Meeting series in September 2022.

For more information about the BMSS and to be the first to hear details of BMSS42, visit

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  1. BBC, Jane Hurst on the secret life of mice, 2021. Available at: 
About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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