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Conference cancellations due to Coronavirus outbreak have “Big impact” on research

Effects could be particularly significant for junior researchers, who rely heavily on conferences for early career progression, says scholar

Conference Cancelation
Several academic conferences have been called off as a result of the spread of Covid-19, and more are expected to follow suit.

Times higher education (March 11, 2020; By Ellie Bothwell):

The cancellation of academic conferences in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak could have a substantial impact on the quantity and quality of research and collaborations, according to an academic who has measured the effects of scholarly meetings.

Ben McQuillin, lecturer in economics at the University of East Anglia, was one of the authors of a 2017 study that estimated the impact of the cancellation of the 2012 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in New Orleans, which was called off at less than 48 hours’ notice because of Hurricane Isaac.

The cancellation of that event meant, the study found, that 76 academic papers that would otherwise have been written never saw the light of day. The research also revealed that attending a conference increased the likelihood of an academic subsequently collaborating with a fellow participant by 18 per cent (from 13.2 per cent to 15.6 per cent).

Dr McQuillin told Times Higher Education that if the Covid-19 outbreak results in many conferences being cancelled, and researchers becoming much more reluctant to travel generally, he would expect to see scholars sticking with their customary collaborators. Such partnerships tended to produce papers that were published in lower-ranked journals or received fewer citations than collaborations between “socially distant authors”, he said, adding that “face-to-face communication isn’t fully substituted” by virtual meetings.

“It does seem to be that conferences have an important role in either the formation or the sustenance of collaborations between socially distant authors – authors who are not at the same institution, who are geographically distant, or who aren’t already part of the same authorship network – that are otherwise quite difficult to form and sustain,” Dr McQuillin said.

Several academic conferences have been called off as a result of the spread of Covid-19, and more are expected to follow suit.

Effects could be particularly significant for junior researchers, who rely heavily on conferences for early career progression, says scholar

The American Physical Society cancelled the world’s largest physics conference, which had been scheduled to take place in Colorado on 2-6 March, because of “rapidly escalating health concerns relating to the spread of the coronavirus disease”.

Meanwhile, registration to attend the annual conference of the Association of European Research Libraries, which brings together library directors and their staff and is scheduled to take place in Serbia in June, has been postponed owing to concerns about the outbreak.

Widespread cancellations of conferences would likely also have “quite a big impact on the generation of new, young academics”, who rely heavily on face-to-face meetings for “maturing their work and bringing it to the point where it’s likely to be published or cited”, Dr McQuillin added.

“For that generation of authors, something like the coronavirus could have a disproportionate effect because if it’s one whole cycle of conferences that gets cancelled, that could be the key year when they’re finishing their PhD,” he said.

“If a particular cohort of young academics don’t get to progress that early work sufficiently quickly, that can have a very significant career effect for them. Some may not end up staying in academia.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

Reference:

  • https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/conference-cancellations-could-have-big-impact-research#survey-answer

 

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