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The changing meeting scene

Sven Lidin
[Sven Lidin]

I started to study for my PhD in 1986. Since then I have attended conferences every summer, often several, sometimes far too many. The value of maintaining close contact with old friends and research partners, in combination with meeting new people with new ideas and impulses, is considerable - without a doubt. What has been particularly valuable for me has been exposure to activities that are some way away from my own field where I am faced with unexpected approaches. I have certainly expanded my research register and all these encounters have undoubtedly made me grow, but have I used my time in the best possible way? Would it have been more productive to spend time recovering?

I have no idea, but it would be naive to believe that these 35 years of busy summers have constituted an optimal strategy.

The conference and meeting merry-go-round has stopped and when it starts turning again I hope that we have learned from the period we have been through. We can reduce impacts, both on the environment and on ourselves, if we travel a little less. Having said that, we cannot completely refrain from physical meetings - my experience from digital meetings is that some work well, whereas others present difficulties.

The IUCr Congress and General Assembly was postponed for a year, but the Executive and Finance Committees of the IUCr met according to schedule, if not according to plan. During one week in August, we found a daily time slot that was convenient for us Europeans, rather late for our friends in Japan and Australia and rather more early for our friends in the Americas. You all know the drill: in virtual meetings you avoid the jet lag, but you pay by odd working hours. As you all know, it works. We got the work done.

Certainly, there are aspects of meetings that work excellently on Zoom, but not all and not all the time. Certainly, we can communicate with colleagues without always having to meet, but we are still individuals with considerable social needs. Trust and a sense of belonging are created so much faster and more strongly in real life than online. Meetings online may be excellent for exchanging information or for making decisions, but you leave online meetings a little more tired than when you went in. A physical meeting, on the other hand, may charge you with energy and enjoyment.

The crystallographic community is a friendly one and I miss my friends.

I miss you all.

A couple of weeks ago I was involved in welcoming our new incoming international students to Sweden. In meeting the group, I re-experienced the exhilarating feeling I used to have when standing in front of a new class of students. For me, the meeting - that magical meeting - is not a digital phenomenon, it requires physical presence. I look forward very much to a more open teaching and meeting environment, but until then, let's continue onwards on Teams and Zoom!

26 September 2020

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