The Future is Virtual

A New Era for Scientific Conferences

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced traditional practices to change. Abruptly. Scientific conferences, for instance, have been the cornerstone of knowledge exchange and communication amongst scientists worldwide. They are often organised in exciting cities and open up opportunities for many to discuss research and visit some interesting sites. But all of this changed in 2020.

Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash


The main challenges under the coronavirus spread is that people should keep some distance from one another. So, no sitting next to each other in conference rooms. This limits the capacity in meeting rooms or halls. Another challenge is air quality. If someone is infected with the virus and sneezes, the virus could potentially spread to many in the same room, if the air circulation is not good enough. Again, conference infrastructure is key to keep people safe.

Hand hygiene is also an essential aspect of keeping everyone safe. So, restrooms would need to be washed and disinfected often. Participants would have to be reminded of the need to wash their hands. Poster sessions would probably have to be redesigned. No more close contact when presenting a poster. No touching the posters or the presenter. And, of course, there would be limited conference happy hours.

A New Era

So, why not conduct the conference entirely online? This is what many conferences around the world are doing. A great example is the upcoming Royal Statistical Society 2020 conference. Many of us were excited to visit Bournemouth, England, to attend it. But now the prospect of attending it online, instead of having the conference cancelled or putting participants at risk, is a great one.

Some of the things we like in conferences, such as face-to-face interaction, coffee breaks or sightseeing will not be there. But we will discuss science, methods, and learn new things. And all of this from the comfort of our homes or offices. We will be able to interact with some presenters. And perhaps make new contacts. We will also learn how adapt to the changes seen in the past few months due to the coronavirus.

Our own workshop

By the way, my colleagues Dr. Morgan Yarker, Dr. Matt Benus, Dr. Meena Kotecha, and I will conduct a workshop during the conference. If you have the chance, please, stop by to talk to us – virtually of course.

Follow the discussion on twitter: #RSSConf2020 #OnlineStatsEd