Are conferences worth the time and money? Yes, even if virtual, conferences promote valuable interactions, collaboration —


Yearly, lots of of 1000’s of scientists spend tens of billions of {dollars} to prepare and attend conferences.

Are scientific conferences actually value this money and time?

The reply is sure, in response to a brand new Northwestern College examine. Scientists who work together with others throughout assigned periods at conferences usually tend to type productive collaborations than scientists who don’t, researchers discovered. And the kicker? It would not matter whether or not the convention is in particular person or digital.

“Scientific conferences are a really costly business,” stated Northwestern’s Emma Zajdela, the examine’s first creator. “Folks usually discuss whether or not or not we must always rethink conferences. Our outcomes counsel that the way in which organizers design conferences can have a direct impact on which scientific collaborations are fashioned and, by extension, on the path of scientific inquiry.”

Zajdela will current the examine’s outcomes at 9:36 a.m. CDT on Thursday, March 17 on the American Bodily Society (APS) March Assembly in Chicago. A pre-print of the examine is now obtainable on-line.

A Nationwide Science Basis Graduate Analysis Fellow, Zajdela is a Ph.D. candidate in Northwestern’s McCormick Faculty of Engineering. Daniel Abrams, a professor of engineering sciences and utilized arithmetic at McCormick, is the paper’s senior creator and Zajdela’s adviser.

To conduct the examine, Zajdela, Abrams and their collaborators developed a brand new mathematical mannequin to grasp and predict how scientists type collaborations at each in-person and digital conferences. Then, they validated the mannequin with in depth information from Scialogs, a sequence of scientific conferences organized by the Analysis Company for Science Development, aimed toward selling analysis, dialog and group.

The staff discovered that interactions in assigned convention periods — at each in-person and digital conferences — have been a big predictor of future collaborations.

In reality, members who fashioned fruitful collaborations interacted with each other 63% extra at in-person conferences than members who didn’t type collaborations. And members who interacted with others in small-group settings (two to 4 individuals) at in-person conferences have been eight occasions extra prone to type new collaborations than those that didn’t be a part of small-group discussions.

“Immediately, science is performed by groups, so the formation of latest groups is particularly essential,” Zajdela stated. “Science is not accomplished by people anymore. It is extra interdisciplinary and multi-institutional. We want these conferences as a result of scientists can meet different researchers who they may by no means have met in any other case.”

Initially, Zajdela and Abrams tracked patterns of interactions amongst lots of of scientists throughout 12 multiday, in-person Scialog conferences over the span of 5 years, together with room-level participation information. However when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most conferences, together with Scialogs, shifted to a digital format.

“From a scientific perspective, this offered us with a uncommon pure experiment and the flexibility to make a direct comparability between digital and in-person conferences,” Zajdela stated. “Earlier than doing this examine, we hypothesized that digital conferences could be much less efficient at forming new collaborations amongst scientists. As a substitute, what we discovered was stunning.”

After making use of its mathematical mannequin to 6 digital Scialog conferences, the staff discovered that digital conferences have been simply as efficient — if no more efficient — at encouraging interactions and, thus, sparking collaborations. Scientists who fashioned collaborations at in-person conferences interacted 1.6 occasions greater than those that didn’t type collaborations. However members who fashioned collaborations at digital conferences interacted two occasions greater than those that didn’t.

“We interpret these outcomes as coming from the truth that scientists didn’t have the identical alternatives for casual interplay (throughout breaks or meals) within the digital conferences as they did within the in-person conferences,” Zajdela stated. “Due to this fact, the periods they have been assigned to have been the one place that they might meet individuals to type groups with; therefore the higher significance of interplay in these periods for staff formation.”

Zajdela’s presentation is titled “The Physics of Staff Formation: Modeling the Catalysis of Collaboration at In-Individual and Digital Conferences,” which is part of the session “Physics of Social Interactions II.”

The examine, “Catalyzing collaborations: Prescribed interactions at conferences decide staff formation,” was supported by the U.S. Division of Agriculture (award quantity NACA 58-3022-0-005), the Nationwide Science Basis (award quantity DGE-1842165) and the Northwestern Buffett Institute World Impacts Graduate Fellowship. Information from the Scialog conferences have been offered courtesy of the Analysis Company for Science Development.