Few Autism Researchers Plan To Attend In-Person Conferences This Year: Poll | Spectrum

Meeting adjourned: Another pandemic wave has led some autism researchers to postpone their return to in-person academic conferences.


Today is the last day to register in advance for the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting, which is scheduled to take place both virtually and in person in Chicago, Illinois, in November.

For many autism researchers, however, the decision to participate or not was finalized months ago. The deadline for submitting an abstract to the meeting, the world’s largest annual gathering of neuroscientists, was in July – just as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus began tracing cases of COVID-19 across the world. United States.

That timing gave Audrey Brumback, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Texas at Austin, a break. “It was just a little hard to imagine going and spending time with 30,000 of my international best friends,” she says.

Brumback and members of her lab typically hang out with SfN, and she can’t wait to resume in-person meetings, she says, where spontaneous conversations and networking happen more easily. But she ultimately decided not to submit any summaries for SfN and attend a few smaller meetings over the next few months.

Small meetings offer a better chance of meeting friends and colleagues, says Brumback, “as opposed to SfN this year, where who knows who’s actually going to go?” (SfN representatives declined to comment on the expected number of in-person attendees.)

Brumback isn’t the only one to hesitate. Spectre asked autism researchers about their conference plans until the end of the year. Of the 138 who responded, 29 said they plan to attend SfN, but only 10 expect to do so in person. Of the 109 who are not planning to attend SfN, 64 said they are not attending other conferences either. Most cited the pandemic as the driving force behind their decision, though some said they never attend SfN or face travel and financial restrictions this year.

Based on the survey and follow-up interviews, it is not clear when autism researchers will be ready or, in some cases, able to return in droves to conference rooms. After more than 18 months of virtual meetings, however, many are seeking and finding new ways to connect and share their work.

“I’m very optimistic that people who are currently graduate students or post-docs will be able to cope with permanent changes – Zoom meetings and virtual conferences and all that. They will know how to make the most of it, ”says Ralph-Axel Müller, professor of psychology at San Diego State University in California. “In the end, that will probably be a good thing.”

Weighing options:

To some extent, the reasons autism researchers gave for not attending conferences this season depended on career level. Senior scientists, for example, were more likely to cite COVID-19 as the main incentive to skip SfN.

Early-career researchers may also have more reasons to go in person, the researchers say. Due to its size, SfN is known for its networking opportunities and social events, which online meetings cannot replicate.

“[SfN] This is where students have the chance to interact with people with whom they might do a postdoctoral fellowship, ”says David Beversdorf, professor of radiology, neurology and psychological sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. “And this is not trivial.”

“I haven’t seen this sort of thing properly supplanted in any online meeting,” he says.

Beversdorf plans to attend the conference in person with six members of his lab. The meeting’s vaccination and mask requirements put him at ease, he says, as does the fact that he and his students – who were instrumental in the decision – can take a quick, direct flight from Columbia to Chicago. , limiting their potential exposure in transit. In addition, the number of cases in Chicago has started to decline.

Poster sessions – where early-career researchers are most likely to showcase their work and get valuable feedback from other scientists – have been particularly hard hit online, says Naihua Gong, a graduate student at Matthew’s lab. Kayser at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“Natural conversations don’t really happen as easily as in person,” says Gong.

Instead of presenting their results in a busy conference room, early career scientists find themselves “sitting in an empty Zoom room and waiting for people to come to your poster so you can talk to them,” says student Zack Williams. graduate in neuroscience and hearing and speech sciences from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

On top of that, the so-called “zoom fatigue” is setting in, says Brumback, who might also ignore SfN’s virtual component this year. Despite the convenience of joining a conference from home, it often backfires, she says, because it’s easy to get distracted by other things.

“75% of the reason you attend a conference is to see your friends, to network and to be able to go out for coffee and have spontaneous conversations in the hallways,” she says. “And I feel like what it would look like [at SfN this year] is going to be really stuffy.

Limited choices:

Despite the appeal of face-to-face meetings for early-career scientists, SpectrumruhThe survey and interviews also revealed that many newbie researchers face travel and financial restrictions, removing this option from the start.

Scientists may be “fed up with virtual meetings,” says Madelyn Gilletine, geneticist at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Washington, but for some, “it’s better than nothing.”

And there are some advantages to virtual meetings, including the ability to review online discussions and browse electronic posters at a later date, Williams said.

For Amanda Kentner, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, a virtual option means students in her lab can afford to attend multiple meetings and present their work to a larger audience, says- she.

Hieu Tran, one of Kentner’s undergraduates, has presented his work at four online conferences since the start of the pandemic and says the poster sessions are working well.

“I’ve talked to a lot more people than I thought I would,” Tran says.

Online conferences also facilitate the participation of international researchers. Mallar Chakravarty would have preferred to attend SfN in person, he says, but McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he is associate professor of psychiatry, has suspended almost all university-sponsored trips. Chakravarty says he will try to attend online, and he appreciates that because virtual conferences are more accessible and cost effective, more of his lab can attend.

Many researchers are hoping to see more hybrid conferences after the pandemic. But organizers will need to keep fees low for attendees who cannot attend in person and provide greater opportunities for socializing for remote meetings to be successful, says Alycia Halladay, scientific director of the Autism Science Foundation.

“This includes breakout rooms and high-tech ideas to involve scientists in different scientific activities,” says Halladay.

Clara Moreau, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, couldn’t make it to any in-person meetings this year, but she did try to recreate some of the social aspects of home lectures: she facilitated sessions at the during which she and her students watched the lectures together on a big screen, with time to debrief afterwards.

Sharing his work and discovering the research of others had been a challenge when those opportunities only presented themselves in the form of screen time, says Moreau. But by adding more human interaction, she felt more connected and inspired, she says.

“It has helped a lot.”

Quote this article: https://doi.org/10.53053/HSSL4522

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