Information sharing is the cornerstone of science. Scientific conferences are a key venue for this information sharing – places where scientists present recent findings and hear what others are working on. Scientists, including the researchers at Holden, travel around the globe to share information with colleagues. As a scientist myself, attendance at conferences and invited seminars has become one of the best ways to learn about new research in the field ! However, in March of 2020, when it became necessary for us to stay socially distant due to COVID-19, in-person scientific conferences were cancelled.
At the time, this seemed to be a major setback for scientific advancement. Thankfully, the scientific community quickly adapted and these conferences went forward on new virtual platforms! Like many scientists around the world, scientists at Holden have been participating in virtual conferences and invited seminars for over a year now. These include the annual conferences held by the Ecological Society of America and Botanical Society of America, and invited seminars across different universities (e.g., Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, University of Oklahoma, etc.). In addition to these traditional academic conferences and seminars, Dr. Katie Stuble presented at the American Public Gardens Association virtual conference where she shared research from Working Woods with public gardens from around the world. Dr. Na Wei also connected with an international audience from Europe, North America, and Asia when she presented virtually about the crabapple microbiome research at Holden at the International Crabapple Symposium, held in Yancheng, China. Research on the restoration work taking place at Holden was shared at the Society for Ecological Restoration Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter meeting. Though this is a smaller, regional meeting, the presentations about restoration throughout this region, including work at Holden, are useful for maintaining best practices in land management. We have also presented at virtual workshops, such as the Beech Leaf Disease workshop run by the USDA Forest Service. The timely information shared at this workshop, including research presented by Dr. David Burke, is important for helping to stop the spread of this emerging disease.
One unforeseen benefit – these virtual conferences have attracted a more diverse audience. A recent article in Science magazine detailed how virtual conferences have eliminated the need for long-distance travel and its associated costs and carbon footprint, making attendance feasible for many researchers. In addition, virtual conferences have been more accessible for some scientists with disabilities. Indeed, Holden scientists have also witnessed a more diverse attendance at conferences, such as the series run by the Rhododendron Research Network, which was co-organized by Holden Scientist Dr. Juliana Medeiros. The spring meeting, which included a presentation on Medeiros’ research, was shared with scientists from the United States, Finland, Scotland, India, Germany, New Zealand, and England! Holden’s Rhododendron Collections Manager, Connor Ryan, presented on rhododendron diversity and conservation for Northeast Ohio to kick off the Nursery Growers of Lake County Ohio (NGLCO) virtual seminar series. The NGLCO’s social media page notes that the virtual format has allowed greater participation in these educational events!
There have been some limitations with virtual conferences, such as slow internet connections hindering both presentations and attendance. Interactions and networking, which are so important for early career scientists, including students, have been challenging in a virtual setting. Like everything that scientists do, we will evaluate the data on virtual conferences and seminars and hopefully move to a hybrid format that is inclusive for those who benefit from the virtual platform, but still offers the benefits of meeting in person. In the meantime, Holden scientists are excited to still share our research and learn about research from across the globe, even if we can’t be sitting next to our fellow scientists in a conference center!
Almanza, L.V. Virtual scientific conferences open doors to researchers around the world. Science. doi: 10.1126/science.caredit.abe9591
Sarah Kyker, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Associate
I am a microbial ecologist interested in the influence of human-induced and natural environmental changes on microbial communities. Because microorganisms are small in size, they are environmentally sensitive. Despite their small size, microorganisms can have a large impact on the overall health of a habitat due to their role in ecosystem processes. Consequently, environmental changes that alter microbial communities can have a large effect on the overall health of the habitat. My research focuses on deciduous forest soils, which harbor a tremendous diversity of microorganisms. For example, just a teaspoon of uncontaminated soil is estimated to contain millions of microbial species and billions of individual microbial cells. I primarily study bacteria and fungi, as these groups make up a large portion of the microbial diversity in soil. I use molecular techniques to study the community composition of microorganisms and functional genes possessed by microorganisms. The goal of my research is to help elucidate the importance of environmental changes to the health of a habitat or an ecosystem when these changes affect the smallest inhabitants.