How and why to do an online conference — #WSTC2

How we do research is changing every day, with new tools and technologies that can be harnessed to ease and further research. We think Mendeley is one of them, of course. This is why we were intrigued and honored to sponsor a Twitter conference organized and hosted by one of our own Mendeley Advisors, Sjurdur Hammer.

No, this is not a conference about Twitter, it is aconference held via Twitter! Sjurdur, who studies what he calls “bad-ass predatory seabirds” called Skua, said people in his field are often isolated as they do their research in remote locations. But professional growth is still important, even if you are doing research on an arctic island miles from the mainland.

In this guest blog post, Sjurdur tells us how and why he and his fellow seabird researchers organized this unique conference.


The what and how of a Twitter Conference – #WSTC2

image001For most researchers, attending conferences is an essential part of developing our careers. While mainstream media often portrays scientists as lone discoverers in our ivory towers buried amongst books, this is possibly as far from the truth as it can be – at least in my area of research. Being a researcher in a modern and competitive field requires you to collaborate and interact with many different people, and through these connections build a viable network of people with whom you can have active partnerships with in the future. Conferences are in this regard perhaps some of the most important events of a researcher’s calendar.

However, there are many hurdles for those of us who are in the early stage of our research career to be able to take part in conferences. The first and probably biggest limitation is money. We may find ourselves in between projects, with no clear financial flexibility to cover our conference costs, and may end up having to pay for travel etc. out of our own pockets. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a low-cost or free platform to present and interact with other researchers?

In my own academic world of seabird ecology we have a world seabird conference every five years which is fun and interesting. In order to build connections between academics globally and maintain some interaction during those years in between, a colleague – Grant Humphries had the idea to set up a world twitter conference. The World Seabird Twitter Conference (#WSTC2) was born and quickly became an opportunity for researchers, conservation organisations and NGOs to showcase some of their work relating to seabirds, and would allow for conversations and interactions much like a “real” conference.

Last year we had 42 people sign up, this year there are 71 people from 11 countries presenting their work. Each participant is given a 15-minute time slot, where they can present their work in a maximum of 6 tweets. Those tweets can feature key findings, illustrations, graphs or photographs – all for the purpose of presenting a simple research or conservation story. Because we have so many sign ups this year, the presentation will run one and a half times around the world. It can therefore be a logistical challenge to account for the time difference, as we want to make it as convenient as possible for everyone to participate, regardless of where they might be.  

The arrangement of the Twitter conference requires a little effort of organising, but costs funds to set up, so I sincerely think that this format could be suitable for many medium to small societies and research organisations to try out.

While this conference turns to seabird researchers and various stakeholders, it is at the same time publicly available to anyone. Following the Twitter conference, we curate all the tweets and conversations, so that it has a lasting impact and can become a valuable resource to refer back to. An added benefit is also that since it hosted on an open platform such as Twitter, the general field of seabird science becomes well represented on there. Perhaps there are unseen long-term benefits of an improved public understanding of seabird conservation issues such as pollution, climate change and unsustainable fisheries. I firmly believe that this is crucial to also break down the public perception of scientists as suspicious geniuses.    

My hope with this brief explanation would spark some curiosity and perhaps some societies or academic communities would like to try a similar Twitter conference. Feel free to get in touch with me, if you’d like to bounce ideas on how we can improve academic interaction online, and boost our scientific outreach at the same time! The Twitter conference starts today (Wednesday), feel free to tune into the hashtag #WSTC2 if you’re curious.
image003 Sjurdur Hammer is a PhD student at Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at University of Glasgow. He studies seabird ecology, and have for a number of years been very interested in experimenting with different online platforms for academic and public engagement. “In fact this was probably one of the things that got me interested in Mendeley originally, the way it allows for curating public reference collections, and collaboration with other researchers around a topic of interest,” he said. He can be found on different social media platforms except Facebook, but mostly I’m pretty active on Twitter, so feel free to follow me: @sjurdur.

2 thoughts on “How and why to do an online conference — #WSTC2

  1. This is really fun and so good that colleagues are trying to find new ways of conferencing. Of course, the travel involved in ‘traditional’ conferencing and meeting people f2f is a good part of these type of events. Being out of your own office environment is a good thing in itself for creativity, but new ways are more than welcome. I will try to set up a Twitter conf as well , or perhaps a blended form.

  2. please keep me in the loop (@sjurdur) with regards to progress! Am very keen on new ideas on how we can expand the peer to peer interaction during the twitter conference. I think next time we shall maybe run “discussion” in each session following everyone’s presentations, to bring all the presenters back and discuss overarching questions or problems in their area of interest

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