Community-led online initiatives have reshaped scientific engagement

Community-led online initiatives have played an important role in maintaining scientific engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have enabled scientists, especially early career researchers, to create valuable networks for career advancement, find jobs and discover different research laboratories. More generally, they created a sense of community at a time when many had to deal with isolation.5. These initiatives have successfully adopted the regularity and format of traditionally small-scale events (eg, research group book clubs and departmental seminars), while attracting a global audience. This geographic diversity has enriched scientific discussions, and online engagement has removed many barriers to participation for people with family responsibilities, disabilities or financial availability and restrictions.6. Indeed, it can be argued that such initiatives have not only maintained engagement, but broadened it. In particular, the online format allows this increase in width while minimizing movements. The resulting improvement effect on climate change is another huge benefit7.

We hope that such initiatives are not seen as temporary substitutes, in place only for the duration of the pandemic. Instead, we believe they can reshape scientific engagement to make it a more diverse, inclusive, and environmentally friendly activity. However, the growing supply of online events, videoconferencing fatigue, and the gradual return to normal work patterns can pose challenges for participation. Thus, a key question is how these initiatives can evolve to provide continued engagement beyond the pandemic. Events that existed in person before COVID-19 could benefit from a hybrid model that allows presenters and attendees to participate in person or virtually. Either way, adjusting the frequency of events can help keep an audience steady, but not exhausted. We also advocate the use of social media to reach a large and diverse audience, outside of institutional or societal mailing lists. Finally, financial support from donors would greatly aid the logistics of the event, in particular by enabling the use of licensed webinar platforms that offer comprehensive cybersecurity options.

Overall, we are delighted with the engagement that community-hosted online events have fostered during the COVID-19 pandemic and hope that the steps outlined above can help integrate many of its positive aspects into the new normal of scientific exchanges.

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