When the first conference I was registered to participate in this year decided to go “virtual”, my head started spinning. “GOING VIRTUAL? You just sit all day and keep watching videos? What about the networking? Is it going to exist? If so, will people WANT to network and engage in this different format?” I have been very naive with my “everything is going to be OK soon thoughts” since the beginning of this pandemic, so I naively thought that everything should be postponed. “Well, come on, if you cannot do it in March, just do it in April! It’s basically the same thing, everyone will be happy, and life moves on!”. Oh yeah, life certainly moves on, but not the way it used to. We have no idea how long this is going to take and when it will be over, so we just need to adapt, try new things, and make the best out of the situation we are currently in.

With that in mind, I went to my first virtual conference not really knowing what (and whatnot) to expect. The Leaders Overcoming Gender Inequality in Chemistry (LOGIC) Retreat is an in-person conference focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion in chemistry and is organized annually by the Canadian Women In Chemical Sciences, Engineering and Technology (CWIC) Network. To adapt to our new circumstances, LOGIC 2020 was held in May using a virtual format, and the organization could not had done a better job in making all the seminars, workshops, flash talks, poster presentations and panel of discussions online and available for everyone. The main platform of the event was Slack, which was used to facilitate networking, notify participants of the presentations that were about to go live on LOGIC’s website, and also give attendees the necessary information/links to participate in the live discussions. Besides participating in wonderful presentations and conversations, we were also given the chance to hear from Dr. Erika Merschrod (a Professor from our very own Chemistry Department at MUN) about listening, understanding, acknowledging, taking action, and becoming better allies.

My second virtual conference experience happened last month, during the 24th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering (GC&E) Conference, organized by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute. Because I had submitted an abstract to present at my first ever GC&E, because I had never done a virtual presentation before, and because my entire family had been isolating in the same house and loving to say hello/ask “who’s that?” in the background of my meetings, I must confess that I was slightly nervous for this conference. The GC&E was held in a platform called Chime, where people could see the full schedule of the conference, watch pre-recorded and live talks, participate in poster presentations, network, chat with attendees, and get access to the live portions of the conference via Zoom. Although I spent quite some time recording my presentation (and some painful minutes watching it over and over again and thinking how weird my voice sounded) everything worked out really well. The organization of the GC&E gave us all the necessary information, the attendance for the conference was amazing, and it was a great opportunity to share the ideals and perspectives of Green Chemistry with a more diverse and larger group of people.

Although there are several benefits associated with this new and virtual format, we know there are also several challenges. I am very distracted by nature, and I found it very difficult to focus at home during the two online conferences I participated in. The networking is also not the same, and time difference could be a problem depending on where you are. However, we are all adapting and wanting to move forward. In less than one year we have completely changed the way we live, work, and communicate with each other. We have found (and keep finding) new alternatives to overcome the problems we face. We have opened our virtual bubble more than ever, and we are now able to participate in events happening all over the world. Even if things go back to normal, I hope we could learn from this online experience and apply it further in future events.

Thanks for reading,