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. 🙂 😦