Poll: are you planning to register for the virtual #ESA2020 meeting?

The 2020 ESA annual meeting is going to be entirely virtual. Here is a FAQ about how it it will work. The short version is that presenters will upload recorded talks, and images of posters, in advance. The presentations will be accessible on demand to registered attendees during the meeting, and for some period of time afterwards. There will be a system for asynchronous Q&A with presenters. There will also be a few live synchronous virtual panels and plenary sessions, live synchronous video networking sessions, and a few other things. There are registration fees to cover the costs (just to cover the costs, not make a profit). And the ESA will spend $20,000 providing registration fee grants for prospective registrants with financial need.

First of all, I want to emphasize that the ESA meeting organizers are doing their absolute best in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The ESA, and the organizers, deserve a ton of credit for merely attempting a virtual meeting rather than just cancelling the meeting. I love, love, love the ESA meeting. So I’m both very sad that an in-person meeting can’t happen, and very appreciative that the ESA is doing the best it can to come up with a substitute. To the organizers, who work very hard even in a normal year and I’m sure never get thanked enough: thank you so much for your efforts! You do an outstanding job. I’m sure I’m far from alone in really looking forward to the time when you get to do your job normally again, and organize an in-person ESA meeting.

As appreciative as I am of the organizers’ efforts, I’m also torn about whether to register for the virtual meeting. That’s no criticism of the organizers, it’s just the reality of the world right now.

On the one hand, I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford the registration fee. And the ESA is the scientific society to which I have the longest-standing and strongest professional attachment. I think the ESA is a Good Thing and I want to support the society however I can. And I love attending the ESA meeting, so there’s a part of me that just wants to attend whatever ESA meeting simulacrum is on offer. Like most everyone, I’m currently making do with poor substitutes for lots of things I value. That sucks, but there’s nothing for it. So why not make due with a virtual ESA meeting? It’s better than no ESA meeting.

On the other hand, how many recorded talks am I really going to want to watch? I ask that as someone who probably attends more ESA talks than the average ecologist of my seniority level.* I like attending talks! (and posters, if I’m into the topic and want to chat with the presenter.) But I find that sitting as part of an audience watching live, in-person talks is much more enjoyable than watching recorded talks. Even talks recorded with more sophisticated technology, or more creative presentation, than most recorded ESA talks are likely to have.

And when it comes to my own planned talk, it’s not clear to me that there’s any particular advantage to me to recording it for the ESA meeting. YMMV, obviously. But for me, I could just record my talk, post it on YouTube, and link to it from this blog, and it’d probably get at least as many views it would if I posted it to the ESA meeting site. It likely wouldn’t get much substantive feedback if I just posted it on YouTube and linked to it from this blog. But I suspect it wouldn’t get much feedback from the ESA’s asynchronous Q&A system either.

And if I want an inferior-but-better-than-nothing substitute for the social interactions that I enjoy so much at an ordinary ESA meeting, I can just arrange to zoom privately with my friends. I don’t need to register for the ESA meeting for that.

So I dunno. Right now I’m leaning towards registering, purely to support the ESA. But that’s just me, and obviously different people are different. So what are you thinking of doing? And is it different than what you’d ordinarily do? Take our two-question poll, and share your thinking in the comments.

*During an ordinary in-person ESA meeting, I spend most of each day attending talks. Because I can meet all my friends, and anyone else who wants to talk to me, over meals and during poster sessions, at least usually. I don’t have nearly enough friends, collaborators, and other people who want to talk to me to be able to spend the entire meeting talking to people. 🙂 😦

11 thoughts on “Poll: are you planning to register for the virtual #ESA2020 meeting?

  1. Not surprisingly, it’s clear from the early poll results that many people who would have attended the ESA meeting in a normal year are going to skip the virtual version. 48% say they’re definitely or probably not going to the virtual meeting, vs. 29% who probably or definitely are. Compare that to 48% who definitely or probably were going to attend the meeting in person, vs. 26% who probably or definitely were not.

    No idea how representative the poll respondents are of all prospective ESA meeting attendees. But I don’t see any reason to think they’re wildly *un*representative in terms of their attendance plans.

    • Now with more votes in, we still have 47% saying they probably/definitely won’t register for the virtual meeting, vs. 36% who probably/definitely will. That’s more of a shift than we usually see in our polls have the first ~50 responses come in. And 52% now say they probably/definitely would’ve attended without the pandemic, vs. 27% who probably/definitely would not have.

      • And now, with probably about as many votes as we’re going to get, 53% say they’re definitely/probably not attending the virtual meeting, vs. 29% who probably/definitely are. 46% definitely/probably would’ve attended in person in a normal year, vs. 23% who probably/definitely would not have.

        So if this poll is roughly representative, registered attendees for the virtual meeting could be down something like 40ish % compared to what they would’ve been at the in-person meeting in the absence of a pandemic. Put big mental error bars around that 40%, obviously, to allow for both sampling error and sampling bias. But I doubt the error bars should be so wide as to include zero.

  2. This for me is a perfect example of why I don’t believe the news stories about how business travel is never going to come back now that everybody has learned how to zoom. I am of course aware of carbon footprints and everybody makes their own choices about that. But the online conference is just a pretty poor substitute. Especially as I go to ESA mostly for reasons other than the talks (collaborations, conversations with publishers for both a journal and a book I am working on, etc) and none of that will be online.

    Although I confess the prospect of being able to listen to talks at double speed is appealing to me. Does that make me a terrible human being?

    That said, I intend to register and watch some talks just because as you said I can afford it on a grant and keeping ESA vibrant is really important to me. They’ve hit some bad luck (definitely no fault of the society) with Louisville being in Kentucky passing a heinous law *after* they signed a contract then COVID for two years in a row. And the meeting is their one major source of funding beyond membership dues (and the meeting is what drives a lot of people to pay membership dues) – as far as I know the journals don’t make money anymore.

    So just as I am making an effort to buy from local small businesses in ways I wouldn’t normally, I will do the same with ESA.

    • “Although I confess the prospect of being able to listen to talks at double speed is appealing to me.”

      Yeah, if I do watch some talks, I’ll be skipping the intro for most of them. When I’m listening to ESA talks on a topic I already know something about, I find I rarely need to listen to the intro. And I’m sure the same is true for many people listening to my ESA talks. The intro’s mostly there to accommodate the fact that it’s a broad audience and some of them may be new to the topic.

  3. One other reason to participate, in addition to supporting ESA: Reducing academia’s carbon footprint is important, and meeting related travel is a big source of emissions. The experiment ESA is conducting may help us figure out how to do that. I agree with Brian that face-to-face meetings won’t go away entirely, but having an option to participate remotely would be great.

  4. I submitted a poster. I’ll register and upload the poster. In part to be supportive, as noted by others. In some situations, that would save me the cost of printing the poster, but our institute covers those costs, so I guess that Clemson saves there. Putting the poster up online is as easy as printing it. Haven’t read the FAQ, but I wonder about some security/plagiarism issues with the online format.

    How much I’ll watch is debatable. I’ve attended a workshop recently where one keynote was recorded and the other was live-video. The latter was better. The quality of the info for the former was fine, but the sound was tinny. Another org I belong to has decided that cancelling their meeting is preferable to online, if it comes to that. Decision on that one comes in a month or so.

    When I’m at the meeting, I focus mostly on the meeting. I delegate my admin responsibilities back home and don’t worry about them (mostly). I can’t imagine how (un)successful it will be for me to be on the computer, trying to focus on a meeting, which is recorded, with a kid at home, etc. I’d rather the meeting be synchronous+recorded, even if it means I’d have to engaged “after work” on the east coast.

    Jeremy–next ESA that is live, and not in the Deep South, I’ll be happy to find you in a hall way and prevent you from going to a talk. We can discuss random 80s music references. Or find a karaoke bar. (Deep South/Southwest meetings in August are silly. I’ve been to enough of them. Too Hot. Ft. Lauderdale was the last straw. SC is bad enough in August.)

    • That’s a very kind offer, save for the karaoke bar part. You would not have suggested that if you’d ever have heard me “sing”. Me in a karaoke bar would be less like the “Wild Wild Life” video (quirky, fun karaoke) than like the “Bohemian Like You” video (not actually fun karaoke; only mistaken for fun karaoke by extremely drunk people).

      I actually kind of like it when the ESA is held in uncomfortably hot places. Calgary basically never gets uncomfortably hot. The summer here is so short and non-hot that some years you hardly feel like you *had* summer before fall arrives. I need enough degree days to feel like I have had summer. If that means spending a week in Tucson or Austin in August, so be it. If I’m uncomfortably hot, that means it is Definitely Summer. 🙂

  5. For me, 90% of the benefit of ESA and similar conferences, is the side chats about science. The way my brain works, I get very little out of most talks, unless they are exceptional. I view talks more like advertisements to meet the person later. And I’ve been in enough social gatherings, meetings, and one-on-ones in zoom to know it’s not going to work that well for me.

    I like the idea of a lower-cost alternative, like a twitter conference. The in-between of a virtual conference just doesn’t appeal to me. $200+ registration, I know just covers the costs, but I just don’t get enough of the benefit to commit to that (If I still lived in the US, I might have still registered to be supportive though). I do wonder though, are virtual conferences always this expensive to run? Part of me thinks that the sudden change from in-person to virtual, and perhaps the current high demand for virtual conferencing tools, is driving up the price/cost more than what might be typical. I thought virtual conferences might be a good alternative to replace some conference travel, but I had no idea they were this expensive to run.

  6. I think an online meeting will be exactly as good as we make it. I’m going to make an effort to watch and engage with student and early career talks in particular. It already sucks enough to be on the job market at the moment, or to be stuck at home with greatly diminished opportunities to interact and build a network and get feedback as a student. On the upside, I’m registering two of my beginning students who I wouldn’t otherwise have brought to ESA to give them a chance to check out some of the latest research as they’re in the process of choosing study tropics and they’re excited about it. For me, the cost barrier is now much lower than it would otherwise have been (though I am very sad I won’t be there in person).

  7. I will register (actually already have) and I will upload my talk. I have 1 year before my PhD project is finished, and both my partner and I were planning to use ESA as a way to meet possible future employers and collaborators, and get a bit of exposure for our work. As Matthew said above, I look at talks as an invitation to meet the presenter later, and I was counting on lots of good post-talk conversations, so that is a big loss of not having an in-person meeting. But given that I am at the start of a job search, the virtual meeting seems better than nothing for me. Hopefully a few people will see my talk and maybe send me a message if they are interested. This poll is a bit discouraging, though, since it sounds like there will be way fewer people seeing the talks. On the other hand, the cost of the conference seems very reasonable to me (at least the student price is), and definitely worth it for a little exposure and maybe meeting a few people online.

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