As we start to get into the winter season, or as I write from Texas, the mildly less hot season, there is a noticeable gap where the annual Society for Neuroscience conference used to be. Now, with the announcement of the cancellation of the in-person SfN conference and the speculation months before, this comes as a surprise to very few in the industry. What is usually the largest gathering of neuroscience minds in the world every year, SfN has become a unique opportunity to see friends and colleagues made from around the world. 2020 has seen both terrible strife and beautiful stories of people coming together and uniting to stop the spread of Covid-19, and in the middle of all this it is easy to overlook the smaller things like these gatherings, but it still begs the question of what to do now that there is no SfN?
Students and researchers no longer have the particular opportunity that SfN offers to share their work with others in a live, in-person format, and while online poster presentations and conferences are becoming more prevalent to combat this lack, there is still a community aspect that is noticeably absent. Making it through this year seems to be the mindset of many, but others are attempting to make the most of an unfortunate situation.
Already the industry has come up with fun and unique ways to keep the neuroscience community together. Social media including Twitter and TikTok, while already being platforms for expressions, have exploded during this year with people interacting with one another. Webinars, not uncommon in the past, have become popular within the industry, giving researchers a place to share their research and learn new things. Zoom has become the new conference hall, and while it may not be as warm and lively as the conference halls in D.C., we make do with what we have.
While many may miss the opportunities provided by conferences such as SfN, other academics have asked the question of what happens next year? Will this year without conferences and meetings be an anomaly or will people see a life without them, and continue to turn to their online alternatives instead? As someone working on the commercial side of things rather than the academic, there are even questions from vendors as to whether or not these large conferences are “worth it”. Some in the industry have debated if the money spent on large conferences would have a greater effect if spent on smaller conferences or lab visits which tend to allow more personalized interactions. Even before the pandemic, topics of the environmental impact and worldwide inclusion were in question. 2021 will be an interesting year for these questions to be answered.
Written by Justin Brown