When we think about the work of scientists, often the image that comes to mind is of a person in a lab coat, using high-tech equipment. But is that all?
That’s right, in many cases this is part of the researchers’ daily life – although that’s not quite the case for me, as an astronomer who spends most of his day in front of his computer. However, an important step in the work of any scientist is what comes after the result: the publication of his work.
Part of this is writing scholarly articles, which will be published in peer-reviewed and peer-read journals around the world, but another part participates in conferences. This is simply not the same in times of pandemic.
I thought about it because, this week, I am participating in the annual meeting of the Brazilian Astronomical Society. It’s a traditional meeting, which unfortunately was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but it took place around 2021.
It is amazing to think that communication technology allows us to participate in teleconferencing. At the same time, it is important to realize that the experience is not the same.
Scientific conferences for me are much more than just attending lectures or presenting my work. No, perhaps the most important thing is coffee time, lunch and free time around the lectures.
Not because conversations aren’t important, but because they spark the conversation that comes later.
Science is the creation of knowledge, and the most productive discussion comes after presentations. With your mind racing, it’s a chance to meet colleagues with similar interests, put your mind to work and think about the next projects, the next research, and the next questions to ask.
Unfortunately, this cannot be done at the current annual meeting. We had excellent seminars, including Dr. Andrea Ghez, who received the Nobel Prize in 2020 for her studies of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. But there was no opportunity to talk to her after that; The lecture is over, she shuts down her California computer, and I can no longer continue the conversation.
For students, I would say that it is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it is easier for them to attend conferences, since the costs associated with them are much lower – after all, there is no travel, only an Internet connection.
On the other hand, they now have fewer opportunities to interact with future advisors and seek new opportunities from fellowships or research groups for their careers in the near future.
The conferences were an opportunity for me to interact with my colleagues, exchange ideas and think about the future. Now, they are virtual presentations that do not allow us to interact after a short exchange of texts.
Remember: the hardest part about science is not finding answers, but thinking about questions that haven’t been asked before. These conferences were the perfect environment to further these ideas, and I hope to be able to return to face-to-face coordination soon so that we can stimulate our minds as we did before.
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