The annual BSDB meeting is always on the ‘must-attend’ list for the team at Development. This year was, of course, extra-special because it was our first in-person meeting for two years. For me, it was particularly exciting as it was meant to be my first in-person meeting in my new role as Community Manager of the Node. I was looking forward to catching up with old friends and introducing new researchers to the Node community. Unfortunately, the in-person part was not meant to be, as COVID caught up with me the day before the meeting started. However, in light of the ongoing discussion surrounding conference accessibility and sustainability, it was an excellent opportunity to check out the virtual experience of the joint meeting with the BSCB.
Of course, the fact I got to ‘attend’ the meeting at all was my first big thumbs up for the hybrid concept. I found that it was possible to feel the excitement of the attendees even without being there (and I was only slightly jealous!). Almost every speaker started their talks with ‘I’m really happy to be here presenting at my first in-person conference for two years,’ and the delight in their voices prevented any feeling of the phrase becoming repetitive. The meeting kicked off with a plenary lecture from John Wallingford, who wisely got the whole audience onside by telling us that we are all developmental biologists before going on to explain that he would be talking entirely about cell biology featuring the ignoreome, which is composed of completely uncharacterised genes.
The next talk was the BSDB Cheryll Tickle medal lecture from Emma Rawlins. Unfortunately, Emma was also stuck at home because of COVID, but we went smoothly over to her live-streamed presentation. Emma gave us a whistle-stop tour of her career before focusing on the latest work from her lab on human lung development. The first evening concluded online with the BSCB Raff medal lecture from Florence Young, who presented her PhD (and ongoing) work on microtubule-based cargo transport in neurons. Although I was disappointed to not be able to follow up these excellent talks with more discussion with colleagues, the main thing that I missed was the laser pointer, which was an ongoing problem throughout the meeting. A few of the speakers did use the computer mouse, but for the talks I attended, only Dolf Weijers had a laser pointer set up to show for the online and in-person audience. Fortunately, however, this issue should be an easy fix for future meetings.
Day two of the joint meeting highlighted another couple of advantages of virtual attendance. Firstly, it was possible to jump between the two parallel sessions without disturbing anyone. Another advantage was that I didn’t need to queue for my comfort break or caffeine and cookie hit. However, Mike Fainzilber pointed out on Twitter that great collaborations can be set up in ‘caffeine-queues’:
This brings me nicely on to social media: I also followed the meeting on Twitter using the meeting hashtag #BSCBDB22, which I did manage to get wrong a couple of times while tweeting about the meeting – I’m blaming ‘COVID-brain’. I would recommend following conferences on Twitter, especially if you are attending virtually. I think that it helped me feel more connected with the in-person attendees. People were tweeting about the talks, posters and the social side of the meeting. On the other hand, the ‘biggie’ that I was sad to be missing on the second day was the poster session. It was great that the posters were available online and it was possible to type in a question for the author, but it is just not the same. At in-person meetings, posters are where discussion happens, ideas for experiments are formed and new connections are made. Sadly, I don’t think that we have found a way to replicate this online.
Day two concluded with the announcement of the Wolpert and Waddington medal winners awarded by the BSDB. This year’s Wolpert medal for extraordinary contributions to the teaching and communication of developmental biology was awarded to Andreas Prokop. Instead of giving a medal lecture, the prize comes with funding for a small number of lectures around the country. Andreas has been a big supporter of the Node, contributing numerous articles, as well as allowing us to host the resource page that he curated for the BSBD. You can read more about Andreas’ teaching and science communication work here. The Waddington medal for major contributions to any aspect of developmental biology in the UK, was awarded to Val Wilson. In her medal lecture, Val took us on a tour of her favourite embryos, including ‘the embryo that Rosa liked’, describing some of her most important contributions to the field.
Day three, aka the day of the disco, saw me taking advantage of my virtual attendance to jump between the sessions again. The link ups to the speakers unable to attend the meeting in person continued to work seamlessly. The flash talks were outstanding, and their inclusion meant I could hear a little more about the research that I was missing out on by not being able to physically attend the poster sessions. The science part of day three concluded with the BSCB Hooke medal lecture from Jeremy Carlton. Jeremy presented selected highlights from his research journey, focusing on his work on the many membranes abscission events that are dependent on the ESCRT proteins. Day three concluded with the conference dinner and disco. Always a highlight of these meetings, it was a shame to miss out, but the tweets and videos showed everyone having a good time and the dancing was as good (enthusiastic!) as ever.
The organisers had saved the ‘big guns’ for the final morning (possibly to ensure that everyone had vacated their rooms by 9 am as promised to the conference venue), with plenary lectures from Anne Straube and Jody Rosenblatt, and medal lectures from Laura Greaves (BSCB Women in Science medal), Adam Shellard (BSCB Postdoc medal) and Guillermo Serrano Najera (BSDB Beddington medal for an outstanding PhD thesis). I was meant to be conducting my very first in-person interview with Guillermo, which unfortunately couldn’t happen, but we managed to catch up over Teams and I will be posting the interview on the Node soon. Guillermo has so many different interests and this was a really fun interview. Hopefully this comes across in the final article!
Overall, I really enjoyed attending the BSCB/BSDB joint meeting. Do I think the virtual experience is the same as attending in-person? No. Would I have preferred to attend in person? Yes, but I think hybrid meetings should be an ongoing feature of major conferences. There could be any number of reasons a delegate can’t attend in-person, such as sustainability considerations, financial reasons, family commitments, health reasons, etc. and the virtual experience is a great alternative. Being able to follow the meeting via the conference platform and on Twitter still made it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. Thanks to the organisers from the BSCB and BSDB!