An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
October 25th, 2020
(Not) Attending Professional Meetings in the COVID-19 Era
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), our professional society, held its annual meeting this week, IDWeek.
As usual, I registered for and attended the meeting.
Of course I should have written “attended” the meeting, as instead of having an in-person meeting in Philadelphia (the original planned venue), it was entirely done online. Another “virtual” meeting due to COVID-19.
First, the good news. The preparation and content both were top-notch. Navigating the site, watching the presentations either live or on-demand, and reviewing the posters, I found the experience transparent and bug-free. (No pun intended.)
Happy to report there has been real progress in the virtual meeting user interface since the last conference I “attended”.
And there is gobs and gobs of content. (Or should that be “are gobs and gobs” — inquiring minds want to know!)
That’s the great thing about IDWeek — there’s so much to hear about that you eventually finish the meeting having learned a ton. The top experts in our field weigh in on what they’re experts about –what could be better? It’s especially useful when stepping outside one’s comfort zone.
Now, the not-so-good news — these online meetings can’t come close to replicating the experience of having them live.
To be sure, big in-person work meetings are far from perfect. They’re expensive, require travel (the agonies of which are legion), use up our carbon footprint, and gosh they are tiring from the socializing perspective. Sometimes you just want to sit in your hotel room and hide, and watch the major oral presentations and read the posters online.
Understandably, some doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other clinicians wouldn’t consider attending these meetings. Too time-consuming and expensive.
But you know what? Doing only the online part misses a lot of what’s great about live meetings. When attending them, you can focus on the meeting, mostly free of the distractions of work and home.
I spent most of last week at work, well, working.
This is very cool. And beautiful! But given my distraction during #IDWeek2020 — you know, with clinic, epic messages, doodle polls, manuscript reviews, slide deadlines (with *learning objectives*), on-line learning modules, zooms, etc, I'm probably this dot way out here. pic.twitter.com/4dkf7C4nh0
— Paul Sax (@PaulSaxMD) October 25, 2020
Periodically last week, I’d remember that IDWeek was in fact still taking place — and then I’d have the double hit of guilt coming from both getting behind in work and the FOMO of not “being” at the conference. Yikes.
One colleague fought this problem by posting this:
Thank you for your email. I am attending a virtual conference, and will not be checking email until October 25. I will respond to your message as soon as possible.
Gives a new meaning to the term, “out of office message,” doesn’t it?
Furthermore, IDWeek in particular always has great community feel to it — these are our people. Really missed that.
What a great chance to network and reconnect. A clump of former ID fellows, now having launched their careers, gathers by a poster — how fun to catch up! A friend/colleague from New York or Los Angeles or Miami or Chicago or Philadelphia or Madrid or Sydney I’d not seen since the last conference — how are you? A person who’s recently made a big splash with a research paper, or a promotion, or by landing a big new job — congratulations!
And the personalities! Here are a few famous ones from my HIV world: Carlos del Rio somehow knowing literally everyone in our field — how does he do that? Jeanne Marrazzo’s enthusiastic and supportive laugh. Joe Eron steps up to the microphone, and asks the most incisive post-presentation questions. John Bartlett with his yellow note pad, sitting in the front row capturing every pearl. (Dating myself a bit with that last one.)
No, canceling in-person academic meetings isn’t the biggest loss dealt us by the COVID-19 pandemic, far from it.
But it’s a loss nonetheless.