Scholarly Practice

5 Tips for Filling Your
Former Conference Time

By Teresa Chan (@TChanMD)
Originally Published on March 28, 2020

Usually the spring is a busy time for most academics. I know my schedule was formerly filled with really tight timelines for completing this deadline before flying out to that conference, and so on and so forth. Now that COVID-19 has precipitated this lock down, I have a bit of time to take a breath, recalibrate (see this post by my colleague and friend Mat Mercuri on that topic), and think about what I am going to do with that time.

As a front-line clinician (I'm an emergency physician), I know I'm probably going to be called to arms as some of my colleagues are intermittently fatigued (or worse quarantined!), and so it is not a big stretch for me to think about where I might be... But for the days in between when I should have been in Krakow or Denver or Vancouver, I still might have a few free days (where I'm physically distancing myself still)  that weren't going to be free originally.

Here are a few things I could think of that we academics might partake in during these cancelled conferences:

The APA has some standard formatting for cancelled conferences. So, on the days you're supposed to present, consider updating your CV anyways. Check out this useful blog by Timothy McAdoo which explains exactly how to cite the cancelled sessions, plenaries, or conferences you cannot attend.

2. Record Your Presentation, and send it out via Social Media

You've worked really hard on your research, and just because your conference has been cancelled, it doesn't mean you can't your findings with the world. Depending on publication embargoes and other rules of engagement for scholarship in your field, you may still be able to record your presentation and send it out into the world. Record a short video overdubbing a short narrative of a screen capture of your poster and upload it to YouTube. Once you have the YouTube link, share it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever social media platform you prefer. (If you're on Twitter - make sure to tweet me to let me know, and I'll retweet you!).

3. Convert Your Workshop in Digital Scholarship

If you had a conference workshop, it may still be able to convert that content into other forms of scholarship. Consider writing a blog post about your area of interest/expertise for a scientific blog that is aligned with your work - scholarly digital outlets like Johns Hopkins' Closler blog often feature posts that help scientists translate and disseminate knowledge about their work. (You can read a post I wrote for them here.) 

Alternatively, check out the submission processes for repositories like MedEdPortal (a peer reviewed repository of teaching materials).  If the outline similar to your workshop is not yet up online in the repository, consider formatting and submitting your workshop materials for peer review and open access sharing!

Let's be completely honest, much of the fun of going to conferences is hanging out with people that you don't get to see on a day-to-day  basis. Consider assembling a group of your best conference buds and book some times where you can all meet up together digitally... Create your own digital Unconference.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an Unconference is a participant-driven conference where traditional lectures and presentations are kept to a minimum, and engagement between participants is the name of the game. It can be multi-day or it can be multi-hour - it doesn't really matter, so long as the participants get to set the agenda. Maybe you can all make sure to make it a virtual happy hour (with food! drinks!) or maybe you'll want to make it more serious collaborative time (with slide decks! Google Docs!). It really doesn't matter because it's going to be YOUR Unconference... and no one gets to tell you what to do at YOUR Unconference. Maybe you'll get inspired to do your next big project or create new opportunities for collaboration. Who knows what might happen!

5. Resurrect that Demon Paper

Demon Papers. We all have one. 

We all have that one file in our hard drive that taunts us in our dreams and shows up in our nightmares. You know the one I'm talking about - it's the paper that's been rejected by your third choice journal... or the one that won't rewrite itself, but you wish it would... or the one that sits as a series of data analysis sheets and your conference abstract, but has not yet made it into true (re)submittable paper form. 

Demon papers deserve respect. They are the ones that usually only haunt us because we haven't spent time on them, wrestled with them, invested in them. Just like all demons, they are least happy when ignored and marginalized. So, dust off that segment of your hard drive and find that file folder. Re-read your old data, spend some time talking through the logic of your paper, harness writer's block breaking techniques, and spend some time with your demons.  Carve some time out for the deep work that you and your demons deserve.

NB: Of course, demon papers are not to be confused with Zombie Papers (which are papers whose cultural meme still pervades into our fields long after they have been retracted and should be dead, e.g. the Wakefield autisum-and-vaccine papers).

Dr. Teresa Chan (@TChanMD) is an associate professor in the Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Medicine at McMaster University.  She is a national award-winning clinician educator, and has recently taken the role of assistant dean for McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Program for Faculty Development (@MacPFD).   She is also an avid scholar in health professions education and works with the MERIT group (@MERIT_McMaster), and conducts research and scholarship within this area. (She was planning on attending 7 conferences this spring, many of which have been cancelled.)