Organizing and participating in ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE was for most of us a new type of networking experience. It helped many of us to feel more connected and allowed us to still organize ICYMARE given the challenging circumstances of 2020. However, looking into the future, there is still a big question about the role and opportunities of online networking events – especially for early career researchers. That’s why we took this opportunity to go one step further and actually conducted a study to assess the potential of online networking for early career researchers during ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE.

Recently, we presented our first preliminary outcomes from this study at the AGU 2020 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union from December 1st to 17th as part of the session on “Virtual Communication and Capacity-Building Activities in Support of International Scientific Collaboration”. Our session was held in an eLightning format where each presenter shared a virtual poster and gave a brief presentation about it. You can visit our full virtual poster here or check out the presentation in our Vimeo channel

The ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE poster

The ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE poster presented at the AGU 2020 Fall Meeting. Check out the full poster and the presentation video.

Our study consists of four different elements. Before the conference, we sent out a qualitative survey to get an insight into people’s experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic including information about the type of online events they participated in and how the pandemic has affected their professional work and emotional wellbeing. Alongside with this initial survey, we also conducted a social network analysis to quantitatively assess the networking potential of ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE for early career researchers by comparing the connections between participants before and after the conference.

We also looked at what these connections actually feel like and wanted to explore this more qualitatively. For this, we held a workshop on the last day of the conference to explore the impacts of Covid-19 and the participants’ experiences during ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE on a more emotional level. Finally, all of our feedback and insights gained during the organization itself also played a part in shaping our conclusions and recommendations.

Online meetings have a value on their own

Our preliminary conclusions are that online events provide simply a different set of opportunities to offline conferences that are more accessible especially for participants in the global South. Based on our experience and when designed appropriately, online events can serve as an important and more inclusive networking opportunity that should not merely be seen as a replacement for offline events, but simply a different type of event with its own value.

Our insights really fit in with the main themes that came out of the AGU session: that there are many amazing technical tools, such as Slack, BigBlueButton and many possible interactive technologies that can help to foster connection and make virtual spaces fun and engaging. However, as many opportunities as technology might provide – it is vital to think about the human connections and underlying emotional journeys of people engaging with each other to create a spirit of community and a feeling of connection.

An impression of our presentation at the AGU session

Two of the hosts of the AGU session “Virtual Communication and Capacity-Building Activities in Support of International Scientific Collaboration”, Dr. Nancy D Searby (National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA, USA, top left) and Dr. Dwight Owens (Ocean Networks Canada, top right) as well as Julia during the presentation of the ICYMARE poster.

ICYMARE develops further

Since ICYMARE 2020 ONLINE, we’ve started to put our insights into practice. We’re still aiming to hold regular on-site events and will continue to have our yearly on-site ICYMARE meeting, like the upcoming ICYMARE 2021 BERLIN conference in September. Additionally, we’ve recently launched the ICYMARE Online Forum, a monthly online event series focused on specific research areas. Both meeting types are organized in the bottom-up fashion by the early career researchers themselves for which ICYMARE is well-known. This way, we hope to offer the best of both worlds for the ICYMARE family. We are also keen to continue sharing our research outcomes and insights more widely with the scientific community and anyone interested in the potential of using online networking events and are currently in the process of turning our insights into a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. We’ll let you know as soon as it comes out; but until then we hope to see you at our next online forums!

Our Presentation at the AGU Fall Meeting 2020

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