In-person vs virtual conference? Which is better?

Travel

The biggest advantage of attending conferences has always been the ability to travel to different places (which Marie Curie Funding encourages to do) and experiencing different cultures, tastes and lifestyles. Personally, I am a foodie, so being able to travel and experience different cuisines and foods is a dream of mine. This is why I was incredibly disappointed when the first supposed conference, which I was planning to attend back in 2020, was squashed due to the pandemic. Instead, I attended my first ever conference online, which meant that I had to record everything in a video format and then be in the zoom call during the time slot of my presentation. To put it mildly, it was bit of a downer. There was very limited interaction between the participants as everyone was slightly awkward to talk openly (owing to everyone’s first time experience in an online conference). Fortunately, the experience in my second virtual conference was slightly better, owing to the fact that I got to present live instead of a video presentation. But still, similar aspects of virtual interactions persisted during that conference as well. This made me abstain from going to conferences, as it felt as a glorified office presentation with no real experiences and memories to be made.

Seoul City View
Bibimbap
Korean BBQ
Paphos seaside walk
Cyprus style Moussaka

Conference

Being able to visit a different country and getting to experience different cultures, traditions and, most importantly for me, cuisines, is only one part of a conference. The main aspect that possibly favors in-person conference with respect to virtual conferences is the networking and discussions that you can participate in, which is very difficult in a virtual conference (although not impossible as shown by some new applications such as gather.town which mimics an entire virtual conference in a form of a minigame, where you can approach people and talk about their work). This makes the ideas and the possible collaborations easier to achieve compared to a virtual conference. Generally, in virtual conferences you might have a personal chat (in case of zoom/teams) or a personal call (in case of gather.town). But that does not mean that everything is bad with virtual conferences. It is a great tool for when the circumstances are not ideal for travel.

Conclusion

Based on my personal experience, I enjoyed presenting my work in person to the audience and having discussion with other researchers regarding ideas for work and potential collaborations that can be realized. Lastly, I would like to conclude, that it is a matter of a personal preference whether someone prefers a virtual or in-person conference. Personally, I enjoy travelling, meeting and interacting in-person compared to online meetups. Also, I am slightly biased as I like to travel to enjoy some different cuisines. So, it is up to you, and what you prefer/want.

Credits

Article written and edited by Anay Deshpande, a PhD researcher at Università degli Studi di Padova.

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