Cast your mind back to March 2020. You’ll surely remember learning about lockdowns, lab closures, and conference cancellations. At the time, many plant scientists were scrambling to learn how to work from home, keep experiments going, and juggle course loads and family or loneliness.
At ASPB we were focused on finding new ways to support our community during these unprecedented times. Our journals implemented more flexibility, and we began planning to host the annual Plant Biology meeting as an online conference.
While the idea for an online seminar series predated COVID, it hadn’t gained much traction. When it suddenly became clear that travel was going to be impossible, at least for some time, and scientists were going to be forced to communicate solely through online means, the idea crystallized.
— The Tattooed Future Fellow (@schwessinger) March 16, 2020
By late March, Jürgen Kleine-Vehn and Benjamin Schwessinger presented a proposal urging the ASPB leadership to launch a virtual seminar series. ASPB approved this experiment, and asked Katie Rogers and Mary Williams to serve on the Steering Committee alongside Jürgen and Benjamin.
Our new seminar series, Plantae Presents, was launched on April 1st, with the first event featuring Ottoline Leyser and Sarah Robinson. The seminar turnouts were beyond our greatest expectations, and we regularly exceeded the capacity of our webinar license until we scaled up to a larger-capacity license. We held 13 events between April and July 2020 before taking a break for the Plant Biology 2020 Online Worldwide Summit. We launched Season 2 in September, as COVID19 hadn’t been eliminated. In Season 2 we explored a few new formats including Plantae Presents Panels and expanded the steering committee to include Javier Moreno and Gitanjali Yadav.
Over the course of 2020, we held 25 Plantae Presents events with 59 speakers and a wide range of topics. The speakers have been roughly split between early-career and established researchers, and by gender. About one third of the speakers have been in North America, one third in Europe, and the remainder divided amongst Australia, South America, and Asia. We also invited many early-career scientists to share the spotlight by serving as moderators.
The numbers alone tell our success story (see video). We’ve had 11,479 seminar registrations and 3,667 unique attendees (by comparison, pre-2020 the ASPB Plant Biology conferences have attracted about 1200 registrants). Twenty-nine super fans attended 10 or more live webinars in this series. Our registrants reside all over the globe, and our data suggest that we are reaching large numbers of early-career scientists. (One of the initial goals for a virtual seminar series was to provide access for those who are not in a position to regularly travel to conferences, and it seems that to some extent this series is fulfilling this objective). Even though sometimes time zones prevent “live” attendance, the talks can nevertheless be seen because we record the presentations and share them through YouTube. Collectively the recordings have been viewed 15,538 times. The Plantae Presents page is the second most highly trafficked resource on Plantae.org behind the home page.
With all its success, Plantae Presents is here to stay for now. We have 15 webinars scheduled for January – April of 2021, with an outstanding lineup of speakers and topics. The series will continue to include well-known plant scientists as well as those still in the early stages of their careers. We have continued to strive for diversity in topic areas and geographic location. (Watch this space for additional speaker information).
We hope you are able to join us in 2021. Also, please consider submitting your research in the open call for short talk submissions in January Specialized metabolites: Medicines, flavors, defense and more. We welcome feedback. The comments below are open!
Wishing you a safe and successful New Year,
Jürgen Kleine-Vehn, Javier Moreno, Katie Rogers, Benjamin Schwessinger, Mary Williams Gitanji Yadav