Hello once again – this month I’ll be chatting to you all about online conferences.
This past year, we have had to get to grips with probably one of the best parts of being in academia moving to the virtual world. As an early career researcher who’d previously only been to one conference, I didn’t really know what I was missing.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the ARUK 2021 conference was. Pre-covid I was all ready to attend ARUK 2020 – this was going to be my first in-person conference as a PhD student – but sadly it was cancelled just days before.
The team decided that the ARUK 2021 conference would be held online due to the current circumstances – unfortunately due to Covid impacting my PhD research, I didn’t have enough data to present anything but I did want to attend as I think being a lab-based researcher, it’s really important to find out what’s going on in other fields: it’s certainly easy to get transfixed in your own research bubble (this is my experience anyway).
I found the conference to have a really varied agenda from sessions about drug discovery, novel therapies and clinical implications, to the early detection of neurodegeneration, viral infection and dementia, biomarkers and of course a section about other dementia/tauopathies.
Personally, my favourite sessions were the novel therapies and clinical implications and biomarkers session.
My own PhD research is interested in neurovascular function in Alzheimer’s disease – and I’m fascinated by how and why brain blood flow changes in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Lucy Beishon from the University of Leicester gave an interesting talk about how cognitive training could potentially be used to improve blood flow in the brain.
In the biomarkers session Prof Henrik Zetterberg gave a fascinating overview of how fluid biomarkers can be used as diagnostic tests – with a focus on how blood can also potentially be used. I find the biomarkers field really exciting because this research could potentially help with early diagnosis.
Not only was I impressed by selection of talks but I also enjoyed the length of the talks. All talks were 15 minutes – which helped stop the Zoom fatigue and really helped me concentrate and listen to the whole talk. I love the idea of longer talks, but it is really easy to become distracted and switch off.
Another aspect of the conference that I thought was helpful was the half day sessions. Two of the days were in the morning and the other two days in the afternoon. For a PhD student this was really great, as it allowed me to still carry on with some experiments that I needed to do. Also, I can imagine it was helpful to those with family commitments.
Obviously, the networking side of online conferences is never going to be the same – or at least it’s not ever going to be like bumping into someone at a conference and finding out what they do.
Yet, there are benefits to the conferences moving online. One thing that we must consider with online conferences is that they are accessible to more people, they’re cheaper and they allow people to find out what’s happening in their research field from the comfort of their own sofa.
But I am very much looking forward to attending an in-person conference in the future – which I’m sure many of us are also looking forward to! But until then, I think online conferences are doing a good job at letting researchers show off what they’ve been up to this past year or so.
When I finally attend my first in person conference of my PhD I’ll be sure to let you all know my thoughts.
Beth Eyre is a 2nd year PhD Student at The University of Sheffield, researching Neurovascular and cognitive function in preclinical models of Alzheimer’s disease. Beth has a background in psychology, where she gained her degree from the University of Leeds. Inside and outside the lab, Beth loves sharing her science and we are delighted to have her contributing as a regular blogger with Dementia Researcher, sharing her work and discussing her career.
You can follow Beth on Twitter Follow @bethsbrainbites 
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