Day 240: Conferencing at a distance!
It’s that time of the year again, well one of two times of the year really (for us anyway). Unfortunately with the coronavirus conferences are better held virtually than in person. While I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of meeting virtually to share our work, I am grateful that there are workarounds, don’t get me wrong, but there are some logistics that make it, well painful and some things that make this worthwhile.
Let’s start with the good by sharing something about myself. Fun fact, I’m a disabled vet, no surprise there for people who’ve followed me for some time or read the about me. Because of that I have disability payment from the federal government to help support me. It’s a mixed bag because while this should’ve happened right after I was discharged due to my injuries, I spend the better part of 10 years fighting for the care I needed. Off and on, but the point is this, I have some stability in life that I didn’t for a long time.
I’ve been homeless for a large portion of my undergrad degree and I wasn’t “well” off when I started my graduate degree. Conferences are formal events. This means being well dressed for them, think suits. Long story short, I did not own formal clothing, I barely owned clothing. What is good about virtual conferences is that the dress code is (from my understanding) more relaxed. For those who cannot afford formal clothing, this is an excellent thing. It should be noted that as a grad student I’ve had all my travel and expenses covered, so broke or not that part was never a concern. Clothing on the other hand it took time and a lot of learning. I mean the most formal I’ve ever been is in my military uniform and that isn’t the same thing as formal clothing in a civilian setting.
The flipside to this is that for people who are not well off, internet access can be hard to come by. Furthermore, openly showing your living conditions to the entire confrence can be embarrassing, after all if I were still living in my car or on the street, it would be fairly tough right now to find somewhere appropriate to confrence from. Then there is the computer access issue, not everyone has access to a computer and with campuses and libraries closed, there are very few ways to work around this.
Overall I think what I am saying is that most conferences are inaccessible for everyone, this doesn’t even include disability access which is also a major issue, this is purely a finances concern. At the end of the day things need to change in a permanent manner for the better. Namely a relaxed dress code and more wheelchair accessible venues would be baby steps in the right direction. While virtual conferences offer some benefits that address these issues, it isn’t the best solution and we will eventually go back to in person conferences so we need to be ready to address the existing issues and make steps to change things for the better.