Sunday, March 21, 2021

APS March Meeting wrap-up and thoughts

Well, that was certainly an interesting experience.  Some thoughts:

  • Having the talks available as recordings and live streams has a number of real positives:  It means being able to go back and catch up on talks for which I had conflicts, and it does eliminate the problem of having a hugely popular topic placed in a tiny, suffocatingly crowded room.  It would be nice if there is a way to make this work seamlessly in a hybrid mode (e.g., combining a live talk with the zoom stream, though questions would get tricky).   
  • It would also be nice if there were a way to subsidize availability and pricing for people unable to attend in person, particularly from economically disadvantaged countries.  I know that the costs of the virtual meeting are not trivial; this was made clear at the Town Hall about the meeting.  That being said, it would be nice to make the meeting contents more broadly accessible to the whole community.
  • The whole "virtual hallway" networking thing really did not seem to catch on at all, based on my limited experience.  For example, in the session where I spoke, all of the invited speakers went there after the session, and only three additional people showed up.  Given that at one point there were apparently something like 170 people watching live, that's rather surprising.
  • I did miss much of the social interaction of the meeting - to be able to see friends, meet people in the hallway and catch up, sit down for spontaneous discussions, take my group and alumni out for dinner.   
  • I did not miss overpriced food or spending a small fortune on hotel and airfare for me and my research group.  
In the post-pandemic world, we will see whether large conferences like this (or larger ones, like the MRS or ACS national meetings) revert to the traditional format or evolve into something new.


darovas said...

APS meetings staff and March Meeting Program Chair Eva Andrei deserve a round of applause for putting on a highly successful meeting under unique and challenging circumstances. The platform provided by the Freeman Company for the most part worked quite well, though there were a few glitches here and there.

Going forward, in the wake of covid and the recent March Meeting Task Force, I anticipate APS will be making changes to the structure of the March Meeting. I hope the new DCMP Executive Committee can hold the line on DCMP's allocation of invited symposia, which are essential for its success.

Brandon Allen said...

"It would be nice if there is a way to make this work seamlessly in a hybrid mode (e.g., combining a live talk with the zoom stream, though questions would get tricky)."

CERN has done this for at least a decade now. It requires some physical investment at first (cameras, microphones, speakers, and a computer with the video conferencing software in every room), but once you have that it's incredibly easy for people online to comment and interact with the people in the room. It was also pretty much standard at the end of each talk to allow remote people to ask questions before those in the room. CERN even went as far as to integrate the videoconferencing setup with the physical room booking service for meetings ( and they even made a free opensource version (

After working on CMS for five years during my PhD, adapting to zoom pandemic life was like returning to grad school, but with a lot less functionality. It should be relatively easy for these innovations in videoconferencing to spread from CERN to the wider world just like http and www did.

Douglas Natelson said...

Brandon, sure, but there are scaling issues. Getting that integrated nicely on site at CERN is rather different than doing it in all the rooms in a major convention center. Still, in the end it's only a matter of money.