Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB)

The ‘Netflix’ of Scientific Conferences

Scientists reinvent their annual meeting in the age of COVID

“We have to have this.”  Jake Socha, like many scientists, is dedicated to his annual meeting. 

Beth Brainerd agrees: “It’s an annual time of scientific re-invigoration - it’s when I and especially my students get so excited about our field and our work and just get fired up for the next calendar year of doing science. And so many others feel the same way.”

But by June, it was clear that their beloved scientific conference - the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, SICB for short - could not take place in person.  

SICB - led by SICB President Brainerd, Program Officer Socha, and a small group of determined scientists - set out to find a way to save the spirit of its meeting. They quickly rejected the idea of simply live-streaming their normal conference.  “The idea of 15 concurrent zoom sessions is a terrible thought,” laughs Brainerd.  

Their solution?  Socha grins.  “This is the Netflix of conferences! And I think some people are going to binge - they’re going to think ‘Oh my god, this session of ten talks is amazing!’, and they’ll just sit there and watch all of them!” Others, Socha expects, will consume the meeting content more gradually.

SICB decided to embrace the online format by prioritizing access and content- its meeting will take place across two months rather than the typical five days, and almost all the content - talks posters, symposia, and more - will be available on demand for the entire time.  At a normal SICB meeting, there are often as many as 15 talks happening at the same time - it’s impossible not to miss things - but not this year.   

Brainerd’s eyes light up. “The idea that I have access for two months to all that super exciting to me.  I think that my wanting to extend the length of the meeting is partially just me being greedy.”  Socha agrees: “I’m super excited about being able to see everything that I want to see.  That’s never happened before!”

Brainerd, Socha, and fellow SICB leaders are hoping that the new format will make SICB more accessible to scientists from around the world and to those who cannot typically afford the steep cost of airfare, lodging, and meals for a weeklong event.  They also see immense possibilities for scientific interactions with the extended format and more time to explore the program.  They will soon find out whether their optimism - and the ‘Netflix’ analogy - are justified: the SICB meeting kicks off on January 3, 2021.

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