The coronavirus lockdown did not stand in the way of the Graphene Flagship celebrating diversity.
Every year, to support gender diversity and commemorate the many achievements of our female scientists, we host a Women in Graphene career development workshop. We invite people of all genders, from Europe and beyond, to gather and discuss the issues faced by women in science – as well as the steps we need to take in order to keep moving forward.
This year, given the cancellation of the physical meeting, we made a bold and experimental decision: to host the conference in a virtual world. The platform, provided by Virtway Events, was fully interactive. Delegates began by creating a character with their likeness, then jumped straight into the virtual world to begin networking with other attendees.
We were proud and honoured to be joined online by around 70 attendees – well in-line with our previous in-person Women in Graphene events. Furthermore, hosting the conference online allowed us to expand our reach far beyond our usual limits. Some delegates joined from India, and other students and early career researchers – who may have otherwise struggled to secure funding for travel and accommodation – were able to join for free from the comfort of their own home.
The three-dimensional world mimicked a real conference in many ways. New attendees were greeted by the Graphene Flagship and directed towards the auditorium, where many exciting and motivational talks took place.
Cinzia Spinato, Graphene Flagship Business Developer at ICN2, gives her talk 'From research to Innovation: a career opportunity to bridge the gap'
We had a whole host of inspiring speakers, including endurance athlete Laura Kennington, Graphene Flagship partner ICN2's Cinzia Spinato, ISOF-CNRs Alessandra Scidà and the original creator of the Women in Graphene initiative, Katarina Boustedt, who now works at AstaZero. For the first time we also had a student speaker, Bonnie Tsim from the University of Manchester, who gave a very well-received talk calling on people to 'be bold, be brave and be visible'. On the second day of the conference, we hosted an interactive negotiation training session led by Sue Hewitt from Springboard Consultancy.
Springboard Consultancy's Sue Hewitt speaks to delegates about their experiences and ideas during her interactive negotiation training session
The audience were lively and involved, posing questions to the speakers throughout the talks and openly commenting to share their thoughts and give insight based on their own experiences. Between and after the sessions, the Graphene Flagship guided the delegates to the networking area, where vibrant and constructive discussions took place on women's issues and more.
The delegates relish in fruitful conversation in a networking session at the end of the first day
Sian Fogden, Graphene Flagship Business Developer and head of the Women in Graphene initiative, comments: "I am so pleased that we were able to adapt our plans for Women in Graphene 2020 and host our annual career development conference in the virtual world. It was wonderful to be able to hear from our inspirational speakers and see people meeting and interacting in the virtual space to expand their network and connect."
We are exceptionally grateful to have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both our speakers and attendees. It wasn't entirely without a hitch – as expected, there were a few minor issues with connection and sound – but overall, the event was greatly enjoyed by all who came, and we are very excited to see what the future holds for sustainable, accessible and affordable conferencing.