The importance of conferences

I am heading to the Zassenhaus Groups and Friends conference this weekend. I am looking forward to it, but I also wonder about the importance of conferences nowadays. There are certainly benefits—the sense of community, hearing talks you wouldn’t naturally seek out on your own, and getting face-to-face time with colleagues to work on problems—but the costs are high in terms of money, time, and environmental impact.

Could there be another structure that would work 80% as well but cost 20% as much? Perhaps there could be a virtual conference each year where people submit videos of their talks. People could have a week to watch them, and then there would be a synchronous online meeting where everyone could answer questions? Or, maybe you could have a weekly seminar where people present live? Of slightly batch them and do three talks per month (rather than one per week online or 30 annually at a face-to-face conference).

I suspect that part of the benefit of the conference is the cost: if I am going to spend $1000 and a weekend to go to the conference, then I am going to (1) definitely prepare something to talk about and (2) pay attention to more of the talks, rather than saying “I am just going to skip this one video presentation because I am so busy” each week or month.

What do you all think?

4 Responses to “The importance of conferences”

  1. Andy Rundquist Says:

    I think the notion of focus that you mention at the end is likely a key issue. I think virtual conferences could really work well, especially if there were different “rooms” you could jump in on and collaborative work spaces like public whiteboards. Certainly the cost savings from travel could be used to fun better tech.

    When you do virtual meetings, what do you like?

    • bretbenesh Says:

      I have never been to a virtual meeting, actually. I have weekly online work meetings with a couple of research groups, but that is different (those meetings produce the work that will eventually be shared at meetings).

      Have you been to any?

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