Reconnecting in person: My account of the STI 2022 conference
The STI 2022 conference held in Granada was my first large face-to-face conference since the pandemic. I was privileged to attend physically and reconnect with my international peers again. This trip meant a lot to me, but also made me reflect again on the new normal of research connection.
The trip to the 26th International Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (STI 2022) in Granada, Spain, was my first international trip since I had finished my one-year research stay in Leiden and come back to Taiwan. When I learned that the STI 2022 conference would be held physically, I was very excited about returning to Europe and reconnecting with the colleagues over there. Due to the Covid-measures in place in Taiwan, it was not certain from the beginning that I would actually be able to attend the conference, but in the end it all worked out. I was privileged to attend the STI 2022 conference and extremely grateful for this opportunity. My trip was relatively short, and I did not have much time to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Granada. People might wonder if attending the conference for less than a week was worth traveling here from a faraway country. I did remember one colleague asking me this question, and my answer was, “Yes, definitely.”
What reconnecting means to me
It is because I reconnected to the center of the bibliometric community again! As a researcher from faraway Asia, I sometimes felt lost because many new topics have not yet been discussed at my place. Attending the STI conference live again gave me an excellent opportunity to follow the latest trends and have face-to-face discussions with my international peers. For instance, I noticed more and more studies and discussions about open infrastructures and new databases like Overton. The topic of diversity has gained more attention, with bibliometric analyses supporting policy-making in this area. Triangulating quantitative and qualitative analyses has become more common. Many interesting works related to funding policy also allowed me to understand the funding mechanisms in European countries better. I could even get in touch with participants who work at funding organizations. Not to mention that it was great to know who else is studying OA publishing and APCs, which is one of my research interests.
Moreover, I made some personal “breakthroughs”. For instance, it was my first time hosting an STI conference session, my first presentation on international collaboration, and my first time being part of the reviewers. I have learned a lot from preparation to presentation, which gave me more confidence.
Besides that, I also attended the first-ever "Women in Science Policy (WISP)” event at the conference. This was organized by Gemma Derrick, Cassidy R. Sugimoto and Caroline Wagner, who attempted to advocate for acknowledging women in science policy to relevant stakeholders and to build up the network for female researchers to coordinate matches between mentors and mentees. All female participants from different career stages were invited to attend this event on the first day after the reception cocktail. The senior female researchers were genuinely willing to share their experiences. When they heard questions from the junior researchers, they even would introduce other senior researchers who had similar backgrounds or had encountered similar issues before to juniors. For me, I did get to know more female researchers during the WISP event. It was a more relaxed environment than the coffee breaks during the daytime. The atmosphere, in general, was great. It did create a safe and friendly space without any burden. Usually, during coffee breaks, people update each other on research progress and career status, discuss their thoughts on the last session or plenary meeting, or introduce and exchange contact information in a hurry. At the WISP, I felt more comfortable asking questions and seeking advice like career planning.
Of course, some of these observations and experiences could also have been achieved via online conferences, but the live and immediate discussions with international peers is the most valuable thing. It is something that is hardly replaced by virtual conferences. Real-time and physical conferences provide opportunities for connecting. We can interact through more frequent social events like coffee breaks, lunches, and dinners. It also gives us a more flexible schedule for “pre and post-conference activity” to enhance the connection. Grasping the opportunity to explore the city on the day before the conference starts or extending the happy-hour time after the conference ends is a way to get to know our colleagues better.
Hybrid conferences – a compromise?
Even though online conference formats may hardly replace the real and live interactions during physical conferences, attending international conferences has its economic and environmental costs and may not always be possible or desired. Here is where hybrid conferences can be a solution and might even help to ensure inclusion and diversity. During the pandemic, organizing a conference in the online format let academic communities get used to the new model of scholarly communication.
But how do we make online experiences as likeable as meeting physically? I think the most important thing is: people online should not feel left out or disconnected. Besides some issues with technical equipment or internet connection, we often see them being forgotten during discussions. In that sense, ensuring every session host knows how to host hybrid conferences is essential.
Regarding social activities, pure online conferences usually rely on chatrooms or even games to proceed; however, it seems impossible to engage people online and offline in the same social activities at the same time, for example, having a city tour together. This requires creative thinking to come up with approaches that make the conference experience enjoyable for both offline and online participants.
Looking forward to STI 2023
Here I would like to express my gratitude again to the organizing committee of the STI 2022 conference! I really appreciate the idea of inviting more early career researchers to host sessions and organizing the WISP event to provide an excellent opportunity for female researchers to get to know each other, engage in conversations, and exchange experiences. Now I am looking forward to the next one – STI 2023 in Leiden. The organizing committee has already announced that it will be held in a hybrid way. Moreover, the conference motto, “improving scholarly evaluation practice in the light of cultural change,” triggers the ambition of innovating the conference format as well as the submission and review process. Let's start preparing our work and hopefully reconnect again in person or online – whatever we prefer.
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