20 January, 2021
On top of everything else that quickly went out the window following the first coronavirus lockdown back in March 2020, the Campus Science Morning, planned for May, inevitably followed suit. However as the year progressed, it became clear that an event in 2020 would be valuable - to support the development of awareness, connections and networks across the campus and look to finding new collaborative opportunities. Still, if this event was going to take place it would need to be transformed to an online event with all the potential tech issues and unfortunate absence of coffee and cake!
I joined the KEC team at the Institute at the beginning of October and started immediately learning about the amount of organisation a virtual event would require and the number of zones away from comfort it would take us. Along with the shift of in-person networking events and coffee chats in the Cambridge Building to Zoom calls from the spare room and becoming your own barista, it was a new adventure for the team.
There are an increasing number of events and conferencing companies offering an ever more sophisticated (and bewildering) range of services to support virtual conferences, as so many organisations realise that their key events need to move forward. We selected a company local to Cambridge, Venue Audio Visual, to design and populate an online portal and to support the broadcasting of live and pre-recorded talks. Together with BBT, the KEC team collated a huge amount of data with the help and patience of institute researchers, facilities and campus companies. All of those images, bio sections, posters, videos and other scientific offerings went into creating:
It was key to ensure that we gave all the staff on site, who were already overloaded with competing work and caring commitments, (not to mention considerable Zoom meeting fatigue!!), enough of a reason to join us at the event. We aimed to deliver an event that provided as many chances to spark conversations and encourage the building of new and existing relationships as possible over the four days. Our rationale for running the event over four consecutive afternoons was to be able to take the opportunity to include more talks and content around common research themes, without taking too much time away from the delegate’s work and personal commitments. We were also keen to record the live sessions so they could be available after the conference ‘on demand’ in case the timings didn’t work for some. Or of course, if delegates enjoyed it so much the first time they would also have the opportunity to watch it again!
Any event in the final month of a very challenging year was always going to be difficult to motivate people to engage with. With so many Zoom calls, home commitments and the sense of detachment from home-working we were delighted in the response from the campus. We experienced a really good level of engagement with 181 delegates registering for the event and an average of 35 attending each live session. A big relief after so much time was invested by the team!
We learnt many key lessons from organising a virtual event, from the organisational needs, the value of having pre-recorded talks, as well as ways to turn traditional posters into flash PowerPoint videos
We’re hopeful the resources generated and shared will continue to reap rewards through new connections and ideas between Campus researchers. If you have any feedback, including either positives or things to improve, please let us know via the SurveyMonkey link here or by email. Although the virtual event was a steep learning curve and we are looking forward to being able to apply these new skills in future to hold further virtual events, we’re very much looking forward to being able to return to in-person networking back on campus, with all the opportunities (and cake!) it will bring.
Thank you again to everyone who contributed to Science Week 2020, as well as the KEC and BTT organising teams that worked so well together on this.
Please note, all registered delegates will have access to the online portal until Friday the 22nd of January so there is still time to go back and watch the live talks retrospectively and browse the profiles and information on the site.
Finally if you have a project/idea for the KEC team please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
20 January 2021
By Kate Dulwich