After a couple of years of attending mostly — if not entirely — virtual events, 2022 looks to be the year when many of us are starting to add in-person conferences back into our professional lives. Yesterday, members of the SSP community at large told us what they’re most looking forward to about this year’s Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) annual conference. Today we are following up to find out how the Chefs are feeling about in-person conferences in general, and the 2022 SSP Annual Meeting in particular. Although several Chefs have already been out and about, for many of us planning to attend (over half the Chefs at the last count), SSP will be our first in-person conference in over two years. Like the contributors to yesterday’s post, we are all excited at the prospect of seeing each other again — especially after hearing from those who have already been to a conference (or nine, in Lisa’s case!).
We’d love to hear how you’re feeling about returning to in-person events — whether you’ve already jumped back in, or aren’t quite ready yet…
The last time I attended SSP (San Diego in 2019), DataSeer was a fledgling project, and in the intervening years we’ve built up both a product and a customer base. We’re really looking forward to meeting our clients and partners in person, some of these for the first time. There’s also so many other people I’m looking forward to catching up with socially – I’ve managed to get out and about locally as the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, but for some reason my social group here doesn’t have the stamina for extended conversations on current topics in academic publishing. Lastly, there’s not much that can match an in-person conference for making good memories. (The SSP memory that springs to mind right now is accidentally ordering a quadruple whiskey in a DC bar and trying to contribute to a highly technical conversation on citation metrics.)
Engaging the communities that Ithaka S+R serves through conference participation has been an important part of my work for more than a decade. The pandemic has been a huge disruption to this work — even though conference programs soldiered on, the hallway conversations, one-on-ones, social meals, and receptions were less resilient in a virtual world. As a result, I was an early champion for efforts to return to conference travel, and I have attended several conferences over the past six months. This included the Charleston and Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) conferences in fall 2021, and I will be attending several conferences this spring even before SSP.
The Charleston Conference was an early leader, taking the bold decision to host a hybrid meeting in November 2021. Even individuals who didn’t attend can be grateful to Katina Strauch, Leah Hinds, and the other Charleston leaders, for showing that it is possible to join together in person. For me, the opportunity to network more intimately was wonderful, with breakfasts, dinners, and receptions, including the always wonderful SSP reception at Charleston. To be fair, the hybrid aspect of the conference was challenging from a technology logistics perspective, and, interestingly, there were comparatively few librarians and far more publishers and vendors in attendance. The absence of UK colleagues in particular, due to travel restrictions at the time, was also notable. Nevertheless, I remain so very grateful to Charleston’s leaders for beginning the process of getting us back together, not to mention hosting a wonderful event.
CNI was another early leader, organizing two conferences rather than one in December 2021 — one entirely virtual and a second entirely in person. Kudos to Clifford Lynch and the entirely CNI team for taking on this increased responsibility. CNI draws largely from among academic library and technology leadership, and as a result the in-person conference was the first since the onset of the pandemic for many attendees. And it was an incredibly interesting experience to see attendees regain their conference “sea legs” — some of whom were elbow tapping during the opening buffet and then hugging goodbye the following day as the meeting came to a close. CNI has the terrific dynamic of having program sessions that are true discussions, which I found to be harder in the Zoom format, and it was wonderful to see constructive interactivity and collective problem-solving reemerge in person. I am looking forward to attending CNI’s spring meetings, both virtually and in person, at the end of March.
With support from the Sloan Foundation and the participation of 16 scholarly societies, my colleagues at Ithaka S+R have been addressing the future of the scholarly meeting through a current research and ideation project. An early snapshot of findings was published as an issue brief here, and you can learn more at the SSP annual meeting, where Session 1C will cover From Conference Presentation to Content Stream: Speculations about the Future of Academic Meetings and Scholarly Communication!
So here’s looking forward to SSP!
Who would have thought how much of a treat an in-person conference would be. After so long in lockdown, Zoom, and the “Zoom-fatigue” that accompanies its constant use, is no longer the exciting and novel form of communication. There is no doubting its utility, for conferences, family chats, and even for music lessons and recitals as I found out much to my amazement. The in-person conference brings with it a sense of a tactile and sensory experience not possible in Zoom, and while I am not sure why, being-in-person is just not as physically draining.
I excitedly attended the 2022 Researcher to Reader Conference in London this February. It was designed as a hybrid conference, with around 50% of attendees online and 50% in person in London. So yes, this involved an international trip and testing requirements for each day of the conference, and with it a mild sense of trepidation — “what if I test positive?” For those attending in person, it was as if nothing had changed, except that whole panels and sectors of the audience were online, in many different countries. I gather that handling this blend of in-person and online, with sessions and break-out workshops runs at least twice the cost of holding an in-person conference. The logistics involved in handling the virtual and in-person component is clearly all-consuming. But did it work? Oh yes — and even for virtual attendees, there was a perceived spontaneity to this blend of live audience in person and online. Will it translate to larger sized conferences, perhaps society annual conferences. Perhaps, but likely only for specific sections of the meeting, manageable in numbers and cost. For now, larger meetings are likely to be in person only, or virtual only and I would squarely vote for in-person.
My return to in-person conferencing was the Charleston Conference in November 2021 as I took the first opportunity that presented itself! By the time of the SSP annual meeting, I will have already attended nine other meetings in person, including one that will take me overseas. It is impossible for me to state what an absolute joy it has been to connect with colleagues, hear new ideas, enjoy a social gathering, etc. And, especially appreciated, all unmediated by the Zoom screen that shrinks everything to the size of my laptop screen and that eliminates all of the incidental engagements that happen between sessions in the hallways, standing in line for coffee, and hanging out in the hotel lobby. I personally have really missed these conversations with the “middle ring” of my professional world — i.e., not people I work with at least weekly, nor the people who are in the field but I don’t know, but the people I do know yet only see occasionally. The opportunity to engage informally with this group is not only a source of new ideas and insights but also often how I meet new people and learn about different initiatives and projects.
As a veteran of the return to in-person conferencing experience, let me share some tips: You have to re-build your stamina. Even the most extroverted among us (hello!) are a bit out of practice with respect to having a packed schedule with continuous human interaction. If you are that extrovert (again, hello!), you’ll be delighting in the chance for so many conversations. Remember to build in some downtime, even a quick walk outside can be a helpful reset. Make an intentional effort to hydrate — your usual routines are disrupted, hotel and conference center air is dry, and talking is dehydrating! Many of us have moved to a more casual style of dress in the past two years. If you pull out the business wear from the back of the closet, try it on and definitely test out the shoes since you’ll likely be on your feet more than on a typical day. Finally, expect to have many conversations about your experience of the pandemic. All the advice on networking suggests talking with people about what you have in common and so, as you talk with people, what everyone has in common is the pandemic. I mention this explicitly because many people have had great trauma during these past two years so being prepared with what you want to say may help navigate these moments. If you had less trauma, be prepared to respond compassionately as people may share things they wouldn’t typically mention. It’s a time of much transition and being in community is a comfort for many.
I want to add a reminder to also enjoy the travel — not just the conference. The SSP annual meeting is in Chicago, which I think of as “my city” as it is a relatively short train ride from my home in Urbana (okay, it’s 2.5 hours — but in the Midwest, we think that’s short). Walk around Millennium Park, enjoy the “Cloud Gate” sculpture (a.k.a., “The Bean”), take an architectural tour on a river boat, indulge in some deep dish pizza, visit The Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art, shop the Magnificent Mile, and so on — there is so much on offer in Chicago. I’m always happy to share my city loves so just message me if you want a recommendation! See you in Chicago at SSP!
It may sound funny, but human contact is what I’m most looking forward to at SSP in Chicago this year — the voices, faces, and energy of our wonderful community live and in person! I’m excited for some easy and dynamic dialogue after sessions, overhearing hallway conversations, and chatting over coffees without the need for headsets or mute buttons. During the last few years, I have forged some new and deeper friendships via Twitter and Zoom, and I’ll be looking forward to some laughter and hugs #IRL!
I’m also looking forward to that jolt of inspiration that comes from direct contact with the amazing, brilliant people that make up our community. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed that buzzy feeling at the end of an information-rich event, when my body may be exhausted but my head is alight with new ideas and thoughts to bring back to the home office. My first post-Covid flight out of California will not be without moments of panic and discomfort. But, travel of any kind allows us to reflect and reconsider our everyday existence, to see ourselves and our work in a new light. Tapping into the power of informed perspectives and thoughtful discussion is what brings me back to SSP every year. And I’m extra excited for this one!
Until very recently, I had left California just once to go back to the UK to see family last October. But over the past month, I’ve made my first two cross-country trips to DC and Boston for different board meetings. While the experience of crowded airports and flights is somewhat anxiety-provoking, the opportunity to be back in a room with real people has been restorative.
I’ve come away from those two trips with a few key insights that make me all the more excited for SSP which will be my first in-person conference in over two years:
- In-person connections matter. While I hope we can find ways to retain the greater inclusivity (and sustainability) that fully online events have provided, the truth is that we have an innate need to connect with each other and that simply isn’t the same virtually. Whether it’s having a more productive discussion because back-and-forth conversation is so much easier in person, the conversations that happen during the coffee break, running into people I’ve known for decades but haven’t seen in years, or dinner with great industry friends, I cannot wait to reconnect in Chicago!
- Building more resilient organizations. Over the past two years, I’ve been so grateful for the generosity and openness of industry colleagues as we shared experiences in navigating the pandemic. Many of us have pivoted to a new focus on employee wellness and I’m looking forward to hearing more about how my peers are carrying these lessons forward.
- It’s clear that we’re going to be dealing with substantial global challenges and uncertainty for the foreseeable future – how can we strengthen connection and cooperation in the interests of global research and our industry? This year’s program seems well suited to help us all both reflect and move forward and there are a number of sessions I’m looking forward to.
I’m also thinking about Chicago with the recognition that digital and hybrid meetings are here to stay — the counterpoint to my note above. We’ve learned not only how important face-to-face interaction is but also how much can be done without it. And how much better that is for inclusion, our own health, and that of the planet. So, while I can’t wait to be at SSP in person, I hope that we’ll be more mindful of the time and energy investment that travel requires and invest our time in travel more wisely in the future.
Normally the highlight of an SSP meeting for me is the opportunity to connect with existing friends, meet new ones and expand my thinking on a host of topics. I fully anticipate that SSP in Chicago will be no different in that regard. Given how profoundly scholarly publishing is changing, there is much to learn and digest as we consider future opportunities. The biggest challenge for me can be choosing between concurrent sessions, and I am grateful for access to recorded sessions after the meeting. A session that caught my attention this year is titled “From Conference Presentation to Content Stream”, about the future of academic meetings. While the pandemic thrust us into remote recorded meetings, I’ve long thought that what we view as the Annual Meeting could be the culmination of months of communication on a particular topic.
I will admit this is my first professional in-person meeting in 2+ years, and, at a minimum, I expect that being in a large crowd will feel ‘different’. Will anyone be comfortable shaking hands? How spread out will we be at the receptions? Will we all be wearing masks or have them hanging from an ear? I expect I’ll look for restaurants with either outdoor seating or a lot of open space. Of course, I’ll have a mask with me for travel and may find myself wearing it indoors out of courtesy to others as I have friends who are vulnerable when exposed. However, today from my desk in my home office, I find myself feeling excited about seeing everyone again.
Like many (most?) people, I’m a mix of very excited to be attending this year’s SSP Annual Meeting — but also a little anxious.
Excited, because SSP has been a highlight in my professional calendar for about 15 years now; because I know the content and speakers will be uniformly great, thanks to the Annual Meeting Program Committee’s hard work; and that the logistics will all run smoothly, thanks to the SSP team’s dedication and professionalism. Most of all, I’m excited to see so many dear friends and colleagues in person for the first time in literally years — and to meet new colleagues and make new friends. As someone who gets their energy from being with others, I know SSP will be both energizing and, as Alison says, restorative.
But I’m also feeling a little anxious because … well, the last two plus years have made us all, at least to some degree, more anxious than we used to be. After spending years thinking nothing of hopping on a plane every few weeks, I’ve now only flown once in over two years (to visit family in the UK). And the largest in-person gathering I’ve been to was an indoor/outdoor party for about 80 people to celebrate a friend’s wedding. So the prospect of getting on a plane to spend several days, mostly inside, with literally hundreds of people, is definitely a little daunting. From a Covid safety perspective, I’m very reassured by all the measures that we are putting in place. But from a social anxiety perspective, I feel very much in need of some practice at interacting with people in person! So, if you’re at SSP, please help me out by saying hello and reminding me that, actually of course, seeing people in person is one of the things that makes life — and our community — so meaningful!
15 Thoughts on "Ask the Chefs: How Do You Feel About In-person Conferences — Including SSP?"
We should definitely be factoring in the impact of flying on the environment and looking to reduce travel, especially long-haul. With a transatlantic return flight from NY to UK creating the same carbon emissions as driving a fossil fuel car for a year (by some estimates), every trip needs to be carefully weighed. The number of flights being taken by an organization should be tracked and reduction targets set. We can no longer afford the hypocrisy of publishing climate change research, but then ignoring the findings in our own behavior.
I can certainly understand being excited to see others in person again, and I too miss meeting with people at SSP. Feeling part of a community really is a comfort. To add another perspective, though, I sometimes wonder who gets to be a part of that community now that so much is happening in person. How can we make sure not to leave immunocompromised people, pregnant people, and people caring for young children or elders out? We need their perspectives too.
I just wanted to leave a +1 on Low Haul’s comment. It is a sign of how far we have yet to come in making sustainability a part of our day-to-day mindset that none of the chefs thought to even consider environmental impact in responding to the question.
Matt, I did actually flag this in my concluding comments. But you’re right that it’s an issue that demands greater prominence from us as individuals and from our organizations. I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this because I know that for many of us and our teams, two years of isolation have left us and our working relationships depleted. I don’t see a world in which we can do without business travel, but from a personal perspective (and for PLOS as an organization), we are coming out of the pandemic with new policies and guidelines to eliminate a lot more of the “nice to have”.
Please make that a +2 on Low Haul’s comment.
Since the pandemic, I now realize that conference travel is a privilege which means only people with certain privileges can participate. It often excludes many earlier in their career or at jobs with small budgets (we all know many librarians and others who have paid for part of their own travel personally); with family demands; and/or with different health (including mental health) needs. And we so badly need the voices of those in these groups!
Also glad to see earlier commenters and +1-ers mention the environment. We work to support the development of research that has taught us about the impacts of travel on the environment and it needs to be factored in.
That all said – the words above on the value of in-person interaction are not untrue for many. Glad we are having these discussions and hope we can look at them from multiple angles.
The comments thread is making me wish I hadn’t edited out the paragraph I wrote about how we need to decide thoughtfully and intentionally about what to do in person, hybrid, or virtual. I thought I was getting a bit off-topic for the particular prompt we had and that it also might be a good future post topic since this is something that faces the event planner initially but then also attendees when there are options for how to participate.
Yes, good point – though registration dollars carry weight, responsibility is different for conference planner v. conference attendee.
(And what role does conference exhibitor play? Something I think about in my role at SAGE quite often.)
+1 on your future post idea.
Thanks so much to Low Haul, Annie, and Camille for your comments. I can’t personally imagine ever going back to hopping on a plane every few weeks for another conference – the impact on the environment is a large part of that, and the inequities that go along with many, if not most, in-person meetings are equally important. And, of course, the pandemic has shown us all that it’s not nearly as essential as it seemed to be in the before times… Having said that, I do hope to continue attending a small number of key conferences in person – I’ve worked from home for the last seven years, so I really appreciate the opportunity to interact with friends and colleagues face to face. But I definitely plan to be more thoughtful about this than I have been in the past, for example, by making sure that there’s a valid reason for me to attend (versus someone else who could get as much or more out of the experience) and, if so, being realistic about whether I really need to be there in person.
+1 to Alice’s gratitude for these comments, Jane, Annie, Camille, Low Haul, and others!
Like Lisa, I had included a few lines about how conference travel planning has changed dramatically in the last few years, and how sustainability concerns of all kinds are now influencing which conferences I chose to attend in person vs. virtually (if available). SSP will be one of just two events I’ll be privileged to attend #IRL this year, compared to the eight or ten I was attending pre-covid. I expect we’ll see ongoing options for hybrid engagement with off-site attendees, as least I hope so! as I’ll be keeping up my work to connect with the community virtually going forward!
I worried these details were off point, but I’m glad to have a second chance to reflect on these important issues! Thank you, all, for the discussion!
I am very excited to be returning to Chicago for SSP. The 2020 meeting that was ultimately cancelled was the meeting of my Presidency of SSP. The week that we decided we had to cancel was full of so many disappointments. I had just found out that my kids weren’t going back to school for the rest of the year, we canceled our summer vacation plans, and emails were coming in constantly canceling spring sport seasons and summer camps for my kids. Losing the SSP meeting in Boston was the hands down only decision we could make, but I still burst into tears the minute the call was over— or truth be told, while the meeting was happening.
SSP is a remarkable meeting and I have definitely missed seeing my friends and colleagues in person. I think we also learned during the worst of the pandemic that SSP is resilient and our connections are strong. The 2021 virtual SSP meeting was the best one I attended for networking.
I want to call attention to Annie Hill’s comment above. In an ideal world, we would be able to take the best of in person and the best of virtual to accommodate all. We still have work to do for that. Running a hybrid meeting that brings equal value to both audiences is prohibitively expensive for most (many?) organizations. My organization has found that the staffing needs for a hybrid meeting are almost double when you have an in person and virtual meeting happening at the same time. For a group like SSP, with minimal staff, this is an impossible ask.
Organizations like SSP have a lot of virtual opportunities for connecting and learning. Webinars, seminars, regional meet-ups, as well as community discussion boards and online communities, allow for inclusion and networking in virtual settings. While these activities are not the same as attending the annual meeting, making an inherently in person event inclusive for those that cannot be in person, is a really difficult feat.
It’s definitely too soon to have a lot of successful case studies on meetings that get this right, but I am sure that in the coming months, we will see hybrid events that come close. From there, groups can choose to include elements that add value.
Although the return of in person conferences is exciting it is now more important to remember that in person conferences have and always will be a huge privilege. The conferences are not only expensive, but don’t consider the fact that if you are not a North American/European citizen your travel expense doubles because of admin like visas. Not to mention that it is a privilege for people with partners who can stay at home for caring responsibilities – many times this is bias towards men. The exposure younger people in the industry have been able to get from virtual conferences has been incredible, something they never would have been offered for in person events. We cannot lose that.
But the most important factor to consider is the environmental impact. Virtual events are NOT carbon free, but in person events require travel, venues, catering and those very unnecessary hand-outs that we inevitably throw away afterward. Travelling for work can no longer be justified if nothing is done to offset or take responsibility for the carbon emissions. Personally I will be excited for in person events when events take the necessary steps to become truly carbon neutral.
Might carbon offset sponsorships be part of the answer, Andri? Ideally combined with more support for good hybrid/virtual attendance opportunities…
Just jumping back to this comment chain to say I’ve decided to attend SSP myself after lots of thinking. First post-pandemic conference and first SSP for me so…all the feels!
Thanks for the update Camille and see you there!