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Business & Education Business, COVID-19

“Unfortunate, but Not a Complete Disaster”

You need to be a combined epidemiologist, political forecaster, and sociologist – or an outright clairvoyant – to make the right call these days. I have great sympathy for organizers big and small who have felt compelled to cancel physical events for a second or even third time. The latest conference casualty? Pittcon. Its organizers reluctantly announced the move away from a physical event in late January (1), citing health and safety risks spawned by an “ever-increasing communicability of emerging COVID-19 strains.” And it’s hard to argue with that reasoning.

Assuming Pittcon goes virtual, I’m sure the team will do an excellent job, as they did in 2021 – and I’ll certainly enjoy attending. At the same time, I think we all now know, deep down, that nothing beats a physical meetup. 

I recently spoke with James Harynuk about the challenges of virtual events – ironically, before he and his colleagues at GCxGC also made the tough call. “Attending a meeting from the comfort of your basement, you find yourself being distracted by other demands – from work, kids who may be trying to attend school remotely, or just trying to conduct a physical life and a virtual life simultaneously in two vastly incompatible time zones,” he said. 

Time zones are challenging enough when you’re flying between them – but when you’re stuck in one place, it’s (almost) arguably worse. “Being that I live in Hawaii, virtual meetings have really taken a toll on my ability to network and be connected with research colleagues worldwide,” Katelynn Perrault from Chaminade University of Honolulu told me. “Often, meetings take place in the middle of the night for my time zone, which makes balancing virtual conferences with other job responsibilities hard – there are some days that I literally do work around the clock.”

Perrault also mentioned the feeling of inspiration she gets after traveling for physical conferences, which virtual events haven’t – unsurprisingly – been able to replicate. I suppose we’re caught between two quite different dictionary definitions of event: “something that happens” versus “a noteworthy happening.” 

Though we may be over virtual events, we’re evidently not over the pandemic. And in some cases, digital will remain a necessary substitute for real life. Faced with that (virtual) reality, one of my new year’s resolutions is to block out dedicated time in my calendar and then force myself – but mainly others – to stick to it, while hoping for a chance to meet some of you in person one day – preferably in 2022.

In Harynuk’s words – reflecting on the prospect of going virtual: “It would be unfortunate, but not a complete disaster.”

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  1. Pittcon (2022). Available at: pittcon.org
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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