Sunday, August 15, 2021

Ready for conference travel? At IHE, Joshua Kim says "not so much."

 Over at IHE, Joshua Kim asks whether  we're ready to go back to conference travel and whether we have any conference travel planned for this year.

Answering second part first: Yes, I do have conference travel planned.

Answering first part second: No, Joshua. I am so not ready. 

Why? Let me count the reasons.

1. Judging by what I've read and saw when I was on Twitter, travel is a nightmare right now. Expensive flights. Canceled flights. Hours on the phone to rebook the flights. No rental cars. Filthy rental cars that break down. This is all quite apart from the necessity of being Niles Crane and wiping down surfaces, not eating so you won't have to remove your mask--and a significantly higher risk of people acting out in the air. 

2. Somewhat related: all kinds of systems and protocols are changing all the time right now, especially internationally. There's a mask mandate. No, there isn't. You have to quarantine. Well, maybe not, but you have to test within 24 hours.  It's natural that advice constantly changes, and it's right that we get the best information, but planning isn't easy. And--bonus--when you get there, you will not be seeing people's faces, because they will have masks on.

3. Also somewhat related: Did I mention that there's this pesky global pandemic still going on? One with a hugely infectious Delta variant that's getting worse every week? And that kids under 12 can't be vaccinated yet? And that if you're vaccinated you might not get as sick, but you still might get sick? Am I the only one who knows this? 

It's like the options in the "Spam, spam, & spam" Monty Python skit, where they're give options like "spam, spam, eggs, and spam" and "eggs, spam, and eggs" but there is no option without spam, just one "that's not got much spam in it." We don't have a virus-free option, just one that, if we're vaccinated, has "not got much spam (virus) in it."

4. It's expensive. I pay my own work travel, most of the time, since our travel allowance for the year is never enough; sometimes it covers most of one conference, but most of the time not. Figure $1500 minimum for a conference, between airfare, hotels, conference fees, cabs/Lyft/Uber, meals; it all adds up. Those thousands of dollars winging across the country to present a paper? It's mostly out of pocket, from my laughably titled vacation fund.

5. With his authority, Kim says "Zoom conferences are the worst." With my authority, I say, "No they aren't." If the purpose is to schmooze with others and go out to dinner, then no, Zoom can't do it all. If the purpose is lively intellectual conversation, then yes, it can. 

But apart from "Zoom conferences are terrible," I'm with Joshua Kim on this one. 

How about you? 



xykademiqz said...

I'm with you. I actually LOVE Zoom conferences. Presenting is a breeze, no travel hassle, you can pop in and out as you need to. I've been to several this year, and I adore them.
We also do NSF panels virtually now, and I hope we never go to in-person again.

I accepted to give one invited talk in San Francisco early next year, and I honestly think I will drive if it ends up being held in person (I'm in the Midwest). I am very much not ready to go on an airplane, and I can't imagine that will change anytime soon.

Even sans the pandemic, I have grown to abhor travel (used to love it when I was young and not jaded). The only kind I like anymore is road trips, and this country is absolutely amazing for road trips. If I never fly across the ocean in my life again, I will be totally fine with that. I know that's not feasible as I am part of a scientific community and there's at least one international conference that I attend every single time, no matter where it is being held, but a girl can dream!

It's interesting you mention going out to dinner to schmooze. In my experience, it's always the old-timers who seem to insist on in-person meetings somewhere remote, expensive, and scenic. I want an easy/fast flight, registration that actually pays for food or else is dirt cheap, and a chance to talk science during the day and then go straight to my fucking bed. More often than not, the social portion of the conference isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially for a female scientist surrounded by male colleagues with huge egos and either inability or unwillingness to read social cues (such as female scientist dying of boredom or to get a word in edgewise).

nicoleandmaggie said...

Some zoom conferences are interminable, but some are really great. Maybe I'll do a post on what makes a zoom conference good.

I do miss my friends, but I love being able to go to more conferences without completely disrupting my life, or to attend talks from two conferences on the same day even if they're in different parts of the country.

gwinne said...

Well, I'll say that zoom conferences do indeed suck. But I will be doing (at least) two of them and probably no travel during this academic year. Reasons for the suckage:

(1) I am one for whom 'zoom fatigue' sets in quite quickly. Also get migraines from too much zoom. And 'too much' seems to be more than a couple hrs per day.

(2) Real work does not stop for zoom conferences.

(3) As a single parent the best thing about real conferences is the travel and the getting away to think big thoughts and to escape domesticity. I have don't have childcare for zoom conferences. Last year, when my kid was also home, this was laughable. This year I can hopefully count on the kid being in a school building while I am 'at' a conference, except for weekends, during which I might be able to hire a vaxxed teen for a couple hrs

(3) One of the conferences I am attending is attempting to mitigate some of these problems by spreading itself out over THREE WEEKENDS ACROSS THREE MONTHS which is just a lot more conference and a lot more challenging and I am likely to attend even less.

That said, I really do like the occasional hour long workshop facilitated by zoom. Just not the full blown conference experience.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I have found that I like hearing the occasional talk online: 30-40 minute presentation followed by Q&A, that sort of format. I love that British-based research talks have been online this year. This summer, I experimented with the online version of a conference I have loved in the past, and the ability to pop in and out just means that I don't concentrate as well on the presentations, and I also get Zoom fatigue. So much of my work (quite apart from teaching and meetings) happens on the computer anyway, especially as more and more books get digitized, that I just don't want to spend more time staring at a screen. I think I may just not do much conferencing until . . . some future date. Or never. Depending on what happens to the traditional conference format.

undine said...

all--I thought I replied to everyone but apparently it didn't post--apologies!

xykademiqz- The schmoozing is what my colleagues seem to like; I'm with you--talk work & then quiet time.

nicoleandmaggie--I miss distant colleagues some, but I'm on team don't disrupt my life.

gwinne--real life doesn't stop for online conferences, but there's much less social pressure to attend every session, especially if you know someone. In person, I'm basically a conference hamster on that everlasting wheel of attending sessions; some friends even tease me about it.

Dame Eleanor--I get Zoom fatigue, too, but it's easier to bow out than it is when you start to fall asleep in an overheated room after lunch in person. But the screen fatigue is real!