by Scott Rich, Andreea O. Diaconescu, John D. Griffiths, Milad Lankarany
The increased democratization of the creation, implementation, and attendance of academic conferences has been a serendipitous benefit of the movement toward virtual meetings. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has accelerated the transition to online conferences and, in parallel, their democratization, by necessity. This manifests not just in the mitigation of barriers to attending traditional physical conferences but also in the presentation of new, and more importantly attainable, opportunities for young scientists to carve out a niche in the landscape of academic meetings. Here, we describe an early “proof of principle” of this democratizing power via our experience organizing the Canadian Computational Neuroscience Spotlight (CCNS; crowdcast.io/e/CCNS), a free 2-day virtual meeting that was built entirely amid the pandemic using only virtual tools. While our experience was unique considering the obstacles faced in creating a conference during a pandemic, this was not the only factor differentiating both our experience and the resulting meeting from other contemporary online conferences. Specifically, CCNS was crafted entirely by early career researchers (ECRs) without any sponsors or partners, advertised primarily using social media and “word of mouth,” and designed specifically to highlight and engage trainees. From this experience, we have distilled “10 simple rules” as a blueprint for the design of new virtual academic meetings, especially in the absence of institutional support or partnerships, in this unprecedented environment. By highlighting the lessons learned in implementing our meeting under these arduous circumstances, we hope to encourage other young scientists to embrace this challenge, which would serve as a critical next step in further democratizing academic meetings.