OPP Virtual Seminar: delivering scientific talks without barriers

Lisa Rothmann OPP Blog and Social Media Editor

After two years promoting and supporting openness, transparency and reproducibility in our field, we are very proud to announce a new exciting project: the Virtual Seminars (aka science webinars), a new venue for delivering scientific talks in plant pathology-related topics. The idea was brought up by Dr. Benjamin Schwessinger (Australian National University), a prominent representative of scientists advocating for urgent changes in scientific meetings, including replacement of the current model by digital conferences. We had a quick chat with Benjamin who further stressed why he believes the timing is perfect to start experiencing virtual talks in plant pathology, a trend that is spreading into other scientific communities.

“At this moment, ‘everyone’ has time to go to seminars online as they do less research, at their laboratories or field-work, and hopefully less meetings. I thought Virtual Seminars were a great idea for a long time. It is kind of the open-access model of publishing just developed further. We have all these technologies around us but don’t really use it for more open science. Really all conferences should be live-streamed and recorded. OPP is an existing platform that is really easy to plug into. What I like about it is the free-for-all no selection approach. It is anti-elitist and more open”.

Results of a quick Twitter poll were quite encouraging. We then took less than a week to quickly brainstorm and put together a minimal structure, resources and workflow to operate a multiple platform the current model we adopted. In brief, 20 or 30-min scientific talks are proposed in advance, approved and advertised. Talks goes live (Zoom webinar model) followed by a 10-min question and answer session from the audience moderated by the host. A slack channel is created for further interaction. The video record of the talk is uploaded to our YouTube channel. The slides and any other supplemental materials are archived at our OSF project with a CC-By 4.0 licence and DOI.

The model was successfully implemented and advertised. After a couple days, four talks have been proposed! The OPP Virtual Seminars took off on March 31 2020 with Dr. @SusannAuer, a postdoc at Technische Universität Dresden (Dresden, Germany) giving our inaugural seminar on some aspects of her research on biocontrol of clubroot disease.

We chatted with Susan to learn from her experience with this first and to hopefully stimulate and provide advice for future speakers.

OPP: How did you find your experience presenting for the OPP Virtual Seminar? Have you done something similar in the past?

Susann: I enjoyed the experience of doing a webinar. What is a bit odd initially, is the lack of interaction with the viewers - I usually interact a lot with the audience. I was distracted midway because I wondered if people could see and hear me. I wasn’t aware though that my picture, in the YouTube video, would be on the top right corner, overlaying the small pictures I usually put there. If I had known, I would have placed them somewhere else, but I think it’s still fine. Just a tip for future presenters.

I haven’t done anything similar before. I am now seeing a rising amount of these kinds of things being organized in different communities. That’s a very good thing. If it remains free of charge, it will allow a much wider audience such as researchers who are disabled, come from poorer countries, are without funding for travel or have family obligations to contribute with their valuable insights into the science we do.

I like it very much and am grateful that I could take this opportunity. I have been a postdoc for some years now and currently prioritise teaching students. I am focusing a majority of my time to ensure they manage the practical work to the best of their ability, connecting the content they are taught to reality. I also want to create a positive learning environment where they can do the best in learning, to not only benefit their own CV’s but also contribute to society meaningfully. This means I don’t invest enough time in publishing my research. So this platform provided a good opportunity for me to let people know I still do science, even if it is at a very low rate currently.

OPP: Any advice to future virtual seminar presenters?

Susann: Make sure you have enough time to prepare your presentation. Honestly, I submitted my request to present and selected a date perhaps too soon, I was excited for the opportunity. I left myself with one and a half days to prepare and that was a bit short for me. Give your audience a good understanding and background info on what you are studying as you can use these webinars later for student teaching.

These presentations can also be used as resources for interested people that want a primer in a specific Plant Pathology topic. Work on your graphics and make them visually appealing. Redundancy is necessary for this kind of format I think. Sometimes, a little more text on the slides helps the viewers and you can stay focused on your topic. This might assist you when you feel you have gone a little off-topic, and your audience will still understand you. Oh, and take into account that the internet connection can be unstable at times so speak slowly, take breaks or repeat sentences you want the viewers to hear.


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