GSA’s Executive Director explains why and how we’re taking TAGC 2020 virtual.
For several years, we at GSA have been planning The Allied Genetics Conference (TAGC), originally set for DC in late April 2020. After a successful inaugural meeting in 2016, organizers and GSA staff sought to bring communities together by focusing on scientific themes that spanned research organisms and disciplines.
And then came COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic, we made the decision in mid-March to cancel the in-person meeting. While this was clearly the right call, it inevitably meant tremendous loss for our communities.
Conference organizers, committee members, and staff had invested countless hours designing schedules, reviewing abstracts, planning professional development programs, negotiating contracts, and a thousand other tasks to ensure that attendees would have an inspiring, inspired experience at TAGC. Presenters—most of them early career scientists—had worked hard and were excited to share their discoveries. Workshop organizers were eager to engage with attentive audiences. Exhibitors and sponsors had offered travel awards, support for caregiver grants, and resources to help underrepresented groups attend the meeting. Journal editors were ready to field questions from those trying to learn the ins-and-outs of publishing. And above all, more than 3,000 attendees were excited to meet colleagues, make connections, listen, learn, and share.
Even as the decision to cancel the in-person meeting was being discussed, we started wondering: Could we move TAGC online? Was there any way to rescue some of the scientific and career value of the meeting?
In the course of just a few weeks, so much has changed. Many in our communities are juggling working from home, teaching online, childcare and homeschooling, figuring out lab operations, and new ways of communicating and collaborating—all amid the usual stressors like writing grants or submitting manuscripts. Some are dealing with the isolation of both living and working at home alone. Some of us—and our families and friends—may work in healthcare settings or interact with the public on the front lines of the pandemic. Others are dealing with illness or sick family members. Most are concerned with ways to help. It can be hard to find focus and time. It is impossible to find a sense of normalcy.
Despite the uncertainty in the world and the upheaval in our lives, the GSA Board and TAGC community leaders recognized that communicating science and making scientific connections is even more important right now than ever.
Discovery must continue, and so must we.
It is in that spirit that we’re taking TAGC 2020 to a virtual format. Just like the original in-person conference, cross-community thematic sessions will alternate with community-specific sessions dedicated to particular model organisms and disciplines. We’ll have keynotes as well as The Gruber Prize in Genetics lecture. Talks and posters will be presented in a virtual and interactive format. In the weeks immediately following TAGC 2020, we’ll help organizers to host their Workshop Series online.
We’re happy to let you know that we’re making this virtual meeting free for registrants. Even people who weren’t originally signed up for TAGC 2020 can register to attend virtually. Why free? Given the circumstances, the uncertainty, and the short timeline we have for completely redesigning the meeting, we consider TAGC Online to be a big and exciting experiment. Despite the financial losses GSA will incur, we can’t ask our community to pay fees for such an experiment. We also recognize that many attendees will no longer be able to attend every session in the way they would have at the in-person meeting and that it is much harder for people to make firm plans and commitments in advance. We are grateful to have some support from sponsors and exhibitors that will help offset the cost; if your organization wishes to support our efforts, I encourage you to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
How will this virtual conference work?
The original schedule has been compressed and adjusted to allow for participation across US time zones and some international ones. We’ll still have a live welcome to the conference, talks will be live, and session chairs will moderate their sessions, all via Zoom. We’ll have live technical support to help things run smoothly. Most live sessions will be recorded and available for viewing by registrants for 30 days after the event.
Poster presenters will upload their poster PDF and optional video/audio walkthrough for the meeting, and in the week following the meeting they will join live poster discussion sessions. GSA will also provide community and theme-specific Slack channels to encourage additional discussion of all sessions and to allow those with related interests to connect. Most of the attendee-organized workshops will be held via Zoom in the weeks following the poster sessions.
Even though the conference is free to attend, all participants and presenters must register for TAGC 2020 Online, and each person will need to log in to the TAGC program planner/meeting app to view live sessions or recordings.
Join our experiment!
Will there be technical challenges? Probably. That’s to be expected with the worldwide volume of online interactions these days and the short timeframe for planning.
But when we encounter hiccups, support staff and presenters will adapt quickly to keep things moving. We’ll test in advance, make contingency plans, and provide each presenter with instructions. We’ll let attendees know device and internet requirements for optimal viewing and engagement. The biggest way attendees and speakers can help the meeting run smoothly is by carefully reading and following the technical instructions that we’ll send soon. And of course, please be patient if things don’t go according to plan!
Although some parts of the original program weren’t able to be ported to an online version at this time, we hope to be able to host a greater variety of online programs in the future, when we have more time to plan.
We’ll be opening registration next week. Please join us at TAGC 2020 Online, whether it’s for one talk or the entire conference, and help spread the word. It wouldn’t be the same without you.
Questions? Email GSAConferences@genetics-gsa.org.