The CataLight Young Scientists Symposium (CYSS) strives to support early-career researchers in the field of photocatalysis and offer them a platform to show their research to their peers. We believe that a conference has to follow some core values to empower these young scientists. Here, you can find testimonials on what we find especially important in the organization of CYSS!
Diversity and Gender equality
One of our goals in organizing CYSS is to give equal opportunity to all genders. Having equal ratios of female and male invited speakers was important to me and I am happy that we succeeded when we organized CYSS2020. About 35% percent of the applications were from women, which agrees with the proportion of female PhD student in the field. We did not have to reject any applications, but sadly we were not able to contain this percentage for the talk sessions.
In my opinion, especially conferences aimed at young researchers should highlight diverse scientists to help understand different perspectives and to get an insight into possible career pathways. I hope that this can encourage young scientists to investigate different fields and careers.
Being a second year PhD student, I had the chance to participate in a few on-site events before the pandemic. These were small conferences and workshops oriented toward junior researchers, and they were attended almost exclusively by European researchers. Of course, these events do not draw a huge intercontinental crowd, as the travel expenses alone can be quite forbidding. But the choice of location can seriously limit the scope of what is presented, and by whom.
This is why, when organizing CYSS as an online event, we hoped to reach a more diverse international audience. We are proud to have hosted speakers and poster presenters from as far away as the US, Argentina, Jordan, and Indonesia. Personally, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn what chemists are working on in other parts of the world – it is inspiring to know that people from cultures other than my own are interested in answering the same fundamental questions: how can we better understand nature? And how can we undo the damage we are causing the environment every day? This is why I hope we will hear from an even more diverse group of researchers at the next CYSS!
Coming together and meeting new scientists from all over the world is one of the best things about any scientific conference. With CYSS, we brought socializing to the digital age and, while distinctively different from the on-site experience, brought people together. Instead of exchanging business cards, we exchanged Twitter handles; instead of of sharing a beer, we discussed science while sitting on our couches at home.
Especially for young scientists with no previous experience on conferences, on-site meetings might be intimidating at first, because of gatekeepers such as a (perceived) language barrier or the feeling that everybody else already knows each other. Then, online meetings such as CYSS with the possibility of both video and text chat can act as a perfect entry into the academic community, as the barrier for interacting with each other is greatly reduced. And on the next on-site meeting, we can sit down together and share a drink over a scientific discussion - hopefully, this will be possible soon again.
Wide Opportunity Collaboration
As a consequence of the pandemic situation, many traditional onsite conferences must be shifted into online event, including CYSS2020. However, this unusual situation offered us other opportunities which are not offered by traditional conferences. One of them is relatively lower cost for organizing the event. Therefore CYSS can still offer a high-quality conference, but on a budget, as this conference is without any registration fee.
Since the participants do not need to spend huge amounts for registration, travel and accommodation, it may attract more outstanding young scientists from more broad area in the world. For example at CYSS2020, we welcomed participants from Taiwan in the east and USA in the west. Consequently, the research topic in oral and poster session had more variation than traditional conferences which are usually attended by the scientist from regional area, e.g. EU or ASEAN. Therefore, it will also open more possibilities for research collaborations between different areas in the world.
Empowering young scientists
What is really noticable within CYSS is the high amount of contribution of young scientists during their PhD or PostDoc stages. In the general conference landscape, one mostly finds almost all talks being contributed by established scientists, while PhDs and Postdocs are often only contributing a poster. Even during discussions after the talks, most questions are asked by professors and the like, with the other attendees remaining rather quiet.
While there are of course special conferences aimed at the participation of younger scientists, in my area of research this would be for example the KCT (Koordinationschemiker Treffen), with basically all talks being held by young scientists, even then, a lot of the discussion is driven by the more senior scientists.
In contrast, the generally very young audience of CYSS, with only few contributions of professors, drives the discussion in the hands of the PhDs and PostDocs. This notably leads to some questions being less focused on the outcome of the research or its wider scope and more towards the methods behind the research and their applicability on the problems experienced by the younger scientists in the labs.
Open Source Conference Management
From an organizer standpoint the convenience of open source systems, especially Indico, which can be obtained free of charge and run on cheap hardware is a boon in organizing CYSS without having to acquire substantial funding. Indico, an OSS project developed at CERN, proofed itself as an excellent tool for all aspects of running a smooth conference. The setup was easy, thanks to an excellent manual, and the ease of use of having an integrated conference management system made it possible to manage a conference with over 180 registrations with relatively little effort.
Compared to commercial options for conference management system, this enables CYSS to stay free from using third party service that are either very expensive or have questionable data storage policies. CYSS2020 showed that organizing an online conference does not need to compromise the participants personal data or be expensive. Especially research institutions, which are usually publically funded, should strive to support OSS projects that not only enable people from all over the world to organize and participate in the open exchange of research and are a big equalizer in opportunities between the vastly different access to funding around the globe, but also respect the users privacy.
In a time, where the effects of carefree sharing of data with big services begin to show more and more (I can only recommend to watch 'The social dilemma'), every opportunity to lessen the information flood to big corporations like Google, Amazon etc. should be taken. All it takes is a little bit of reading and a minimum of IT affinity, which should be possible to find in most peer groups.