In a previous article ”Academic institutions in the time of Covid-19: Homeworking and productivity” we looked at how Covid-19 has changed the way academic researchers work and collaborate. Several universities are navigating the ‘new normal’, cautiously re-opening buildings under stringent protocols, prioritising scientific laboratories and departments involved in Covid-19 research, re-introducing library collection services and planning teaching activities for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

 

Academic conferences during the pandemic

 

Conferences have been deeply affected by coronavirus since early spring 2020. As it became apparent that Covid-19 was hard to contain and spreading at an alarming rate in many countries, alternatives had to be found to keep the crucial exchange of information between researchers going.

As public gatherings were discouraged or banned worldwide in an attempt to contain the virus, the cancellations and postponement of scientific conferences dealt a heavy blow to many scholars, who would have spent months preparing their presentations.

It has been particularly damaging for early-career researchers who need exposure for their research and networking opportunities to further their careers. Cancelled conferences also impact the diffusion of the latest scientific findings and discussions among scholars that could lead to new developments and future collaborations.

When not postponed, scientific conferences, symposia and workshops have gradually become virtual thanks to communication platforms that were previously used by the corporate sector to sell products and services (webinars) or to run virtual trade shows (fully-automated event platforms).

Advances in technology have allowed online platforms to mimic physical meetings. Besides the advantage of continuing scholastic conversations and ensuring the diffusion of research findings, there have been other bonuses, such as increased inclusivity – think disabled scientists, researchers who have travel restrictions due to family commitments or lack of funds to attend conferences, typically in resource-poor universities.
Another positive aspect has been cutting the carbon footprint of researchers while reaching a wider audience. If talks are recorded, participants can also watch on demand, while virtual breakout rooms might provide networking opportunities among scholars and the possibility to discuss research questions.

 

Conference proceedings and event management system

 

In some universities, conferences have been cancelled as a physical event and transformed into chapter books and special issues of journals, with the presenters being asked to provide a longer text of their original contributions.
For conferences being digitised or postponed, conference proceedings are still an important component. These papers are usually peer reviewed by the conference committee, usually through single or double-bind review.
Many conferences prefer to have their proceedings published before the conference; others like to publish them after the event so authors can update their papers with new insights gleaned during the conference.
In some scientific fields, authors favour proceedings over journals because proceedings help them to diffuse their research faster at a global level. Serving on conference committees, reviewing the papers and publishing proceedings also offer great career benefits for scientists. In some cases, conference organisers do not publish proceedings and the onus is on authors to find outlets to diffuse their research.

 

How Sciendo can help conference committees/organisers and authors

 

Sciendo offers tailored conference services, including digital hosting platforms with partner organisations. Specifically, Cvent covers conference planning and budgeting, event marketing and website, online attendee registration via a secure payment process, onsite check-in, badging, conference programme management and attendee tracking, and many other functions.

Conference proceedings in the English language are published online in the Open Access model, allowing a wider access to research findings. Print-on-demand copies can be ordered if preferred.

A range of publishing packages is offered to cater for your institutional budgets and needs, utilising the cutting-edge platform that maximises digital search/discovery by creating links to linkable references within your proceedings. Editorial, typesetting, proofreading assistance and marketing activities are offered in tailored packages and as added services.

Publishing is only part of the process to ensure conference proceedings are visible and findable in the very crowded worldwide web. Sciendo cooperates with Clarivate Analytics, Scopus, PubMed, Medline, citation indexes or discovery services by forwarding metadata and abstracts of conference proceedings.

To browse Sciendo’s published conference proceedings in a wide variety of fields free of charge, just visit this page.

Working from home became a necessity due to lockdown constraints. As governments are currently formulating protocols to allow companies to re-open their business premises and restart the economy, several universities and academic institutions are proceeding cautiously and making plans to deliver teaching remotely at the start of the new academic year.

The pros and cons of working from home have been discussed for a number of years, prior to this year’s public health emergency, in the context on how to achieve a healthy work and life balance. A paper entitled Work-Life Balance and Working from Home, authored by Tracey Crosbie and Jeanne Moore and published in Social Policy and Society in 2004 examined the experience of homeworking in this context. The paper concluded that, “a more cautious approach to homeworking would be wise given that so little is known about its effects on home and family life”.

However, the pandemic has made it mandatory to work from home and this has proved challenging in a number of ways for academia. The coronavirus has shut down institutional facilities, including laboratories, libraries and archives, and stopped fieldwork activities. Libraries are trying their best to offer digital resources, but many of these have not been digitised or purchased.

The example of Newton is often mentioned to show how isolation can foster creativity and innovation. Isaac Newton discovered calculus during the Great Plague of London, which occurred in 1665. He was a student at the University of Cambridge and also discovered gravity in the same year.

However, reality paints a different picture. Academics have had to learn to use unfamiliar technology quickly to teach, collaborate and provide student supervision. They have had to find a quiet space in their homes - which is harder when the household includes young children in need of entertainment or home schooling - to continue planning and writing papers. Institutions might be supportive, but they still have some expectations of productivity. Another challenge is that many researchers had to find new angles for their research output as funders and journals are keen on promoting and publishing research connected to the pandemic.

What academic institutions are doing during coronavirus

Many academic institutions have been understanding, allowing academics to deal with their workload while satisfying family commitments. Universities have postponed events, moved this year’s teaching and supervising online whenever possible, reduced the number of staff meetings to address more pressing concerns and started to award degrees virtually.

Academic committees are planning for the new academic year and keeping an eye on governmental memos, which are often vague because it’s difficult to predict what will happen in the next months. There are also concerns that enrolment to future courses might fall due to COVID-19.

Universities have also considered the mental health of their students and staff, offering counselling sessions and tools. Academics have set up virtual communities, trying to keep in touch with their students and fostering international research networks.

Working-from-home tips for academics

The ‘home office’ will remain the new normal for a while yet. Here are a few suggestions to stay on task while keeping healthy and motivated:

  • Keep the channels of communications open. Email is still fine and so are collaboration hubs like Slack, which allows you to communicate with your team in your own time. We are all suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue’ and if you have young children at home it might be easier to work outside conventional office hours. Clear communication is key to manage expectations from your superiors, too.
  • If you are feeling isolated, keep in touch with your network by organising a virtual water cooler chat. Most academic institutions are using Zoom and Microsoft Teams to run formal and informal meetings. You can also pick up the phone and call your colleagues if you need a real conversation, rather than relying on email only.
  • Create boundaries in your home and inform your family members of any zoom meeting or skype call in advance.
  • Take regular screen breaks and break long periods hunched on your computer by doing some stretches and chair exercises. Many fitness professionals are offering free classes online. Working without stopping for a break will affect your focus and health.
  • Be kind to yourself and your team, be patient with yourself and others. Do not set unrealistic timelines, build in enough contingency time so you can tackle any problems arising during your project. Give yourself and your colleagues more time in light of the current situation.
  • Have some think time in your schedule. Pausing some projects might be inevitable but you could use the time to learn a new skill and plan ahead in case covid-19 constraints are going to carry on until the end of the year.
  • It is not an easy time for anyone. We are all hoping things will go back to normal as soon as possible. In the meantime, it’s helpful to counterbalance boredom, anxiety and uncertainty with new ways to stay occupied, productive and positive.
  • If you have been working on a paper, perhaps created a collaboration with other researchers and are looking at publication options, do visit our journals page to find out what we can offer you.