There are endless discussions about the future of research conferences, especially around whether they should be back to how they were in pre-covid times or whether they should evolve to an hybrid format or remain fully virtual. There are many pros and cons for each option. And aspects like climate change or a most inclusive participation from communities with less resources to pay for the (raising) costs of trips are often mentioned.
As I said, there are endless discussions about these important issues. But this post is not one of those. My proposal is more modest. I’m simply advocating for shorter conferences. Why not having conferences from Tuesday to Thursday? Switching to this “condensed” conference model will not save the world (shortening a physical conference still requires travelling to the conference and prices will not change drastically as you’d just save some hotel nights) but it may save your personal / family life.
If you agree with me that attending a conference is a work activity (even if it’s mostly a pleasant one), then you’ll also agree that “working on the weekends” is something to avoid. If a conference has workshops scheduled on the weekends, then clearly you need to work on the weekends. But if your conference starts Monday early morning or finished on Friday afternoon, you’ll also end up working on the weekend travelling to/from the conference. And I don’t like to be forced to work on the weekends. And my family likes that even less as it disrupts our family logistics.
Besides, I think that shortening conferences avoid fragmentation of the community. If a conference is too long, it does not do a good job in their primary goal: bringing the community together. People end up staying only for the workshops or for the main conference but very few can stay 7-8 days (including traveling time, preconf workshops, main conf, postconf workshops,…) away from home. And away from all the other work-related obligations.
Ideally, I’d like conferences to move to a Tuesday – Thursday model. Or at least to a Monday afternoon – Friday morning where all the events (workshops, panels, tutorials, main conference … ) are mixed together. Obviously, this is easier for smaller conferences. But we could at least target a more reasonable goal to begin with: let’s cut the length of all conferences by a 25% while keeping the same quality level.
And don’t tell me this is not possible. Most of our research work is around optimizing processes, tasks,… I’m sure we can also optimize conferences!