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September 15, 2020 at 2:41 pm

Stigall Organizes Free Conference, Brings Together Researchers from Six Continents

Dr. Alycia Stigall hosts “The onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.”

Dr. Alycia Stigall hosts “The onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.”

When the annual meeting of the UNESCO funded international geoscience project that she co-chairs was canceled, Dr. Alycia Stigall decided that scientific conferences are essential for building collaborations and advancing scientific knowledge, and so she found a way to host “The onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event” conference despite COVID-19.

Little did she know it would become one of the group’s most successful, most inclusive conferences, with its free price tag drawing in researchers unable to afford plane tickets and hotel costs usually associated with international conferences.

The onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (IGCP 653) is an international project, and personal connections are critical to advancing our science, which in this case focuses on the biological and environmental factors that led to the greatest diversification in the history of life on earth,” said Stigall, professor of Geological Sciences at Ohio University.

She was concerned that the groups’ work would be stalled without an international forum to meet, so she and another project co-leader, Dr. Christian Rasmussen of the University of Copenhagen and Natural History Museum of Denmark, decided to organize a virtual conference.

That conference, “Zooming in on the GOBE” was held Sept. 7-10. More than 200 scientists from 29 countries registered to participate.

Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event conference is held virtually.

Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event conference is held virtually.

“This is the largest and most inclusive meeting that we have been able to host with this project,” noted Stigall. She pointed out that prior conferences of IGCP 653 project have been held in Europe, China, and the United States, including one at Ohio University in 2018.

“Although our project aspires to bring together participants from all regions of the globe, traveling to in-person meetings is very costly. I am thrilled that we are able to offer this conference for free registration to eliminate the cost barrier,” says Stigall.

Zooming in on the GOBE included participants from all six populated continents with presenters from India, Argentina, Lebanon, and other countries that have not been previously been represented at IGCP 653 events, making this truly a global conference.

To provide meaningful interchanges among distributed participants, Rasmussen and Stigall added additional time for discussion after each talk and arranged break out rooms as forums to help participants have avenues to discuss their science together.

“There were lively interchanges among participants, much like we typically have at in-person conferences,” Stigall noted. “I met quite a few new people, and I have follow-up meetings arranged with several of them. Overall, I think the online format worked really well for scientific exchange and networking.”

Participants, such as Tõnu Martma from Estonia, were enthusiastic about the format, noting, “As I am now 1.5 years out of university and funding, this Zoom meeting was a very good option for me. So I think even if all life returns to normal style, Zoom meeting option is very useful to these persons why can’t join the real meeting.”

IGCP 653 co-leader Thomas Servias from France concurred, saying, “There will be a conference world before and after Covid-19. We now find out that some meetings can take place from home. This is much more cost efficient, good for the planet, and it allows joining people who otherwise could not attend.”

Stigall concluded, “Although we can’t replicate the full set of events, particularly the geological field excursions, that are typically included in IGCP meetings, we are just so thrilled to provide this forum to gather and to include so many new colleagues.”

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