My reflections after the Prague Congress

Hanna Dabkowska
The newly elected IUCr President, Hanna Dabkowska, addresses the Prague Congress participants from the garden of her home in Canada.

It is a great honour to be able to write to you all on the first page of the IUCr Newsletter. It introduces me as the IUCr President to the crystallographic community and allows me to make some personal comments about the unusual times in which we are living.

Prague was my eighth IUCr Congress, after Warsaw, Seattle, Florence, Osaka, Madrid, Montreal and Hyderabad. I enjoyed all of them as much for the warm, friendly atmosphere as for the excellent science.

2020 was a challenging year. The Conference Chair, Professor Radomír (Radek) Kužel, and his team were well ahead with preparations for the Prague Congress. Then, with the pandemic declared at the beginning of 2020, all plans started to change. It took a lot of time and discussions at IUCr Executive Committee (EC) level to decide that the 25th Congress and General Assembly (GA) should be postponed. We were anticipating that by 2021 life would go back to normal ... .

In the middle of June 2021 when the COVID-19 delta variant started to propagate around the world and the chance for in-person travel became even more limited, Radek and his team decided to have the Congress and GA in the hybrid mode. The hybrid mode is the most challenging and demanding but we can all confirm that the Congress was planned and executed flawlessly. So were all three GA meetings.

Normally, the EC meets with Commissions and Committee Chairs, Journals and Other Scientific Body Representatives during the 10 days before the Congress. Jet lag has often been an issue but we all knew how to deal with it. This year, similar meetings (very efficiently organized by Alex Ashcroft on Zoom) were happening nearly every day in June. Because of the geographical distribution of all involved, we were starting very early in the morning (for the Americas) or ending very late (for Asia). It was worth it as the meetings were very informative and positive, and Sven Lidin made sure that all the questions were asked (and answered) within the time limits.

The EC met on Zoom again a few times in August, just before the Congress, to prepare for the GA and EC (virtual!) elections. We had two excellent candidates for Vice-President and ten very good ones for three EC slots. Again because of the different time zones the final results were only known after the Congress Closing Ceremony. All the results were posted immediately on the IUCr website.

The important Old & New EC meeting, which traditionally wraps up the Congress, has been postponed until the end of September (after the deadline for this Letter).

In 2021 we learned that – with a strong community and devoted leaders – one can execute a successful, scientifically sound virtual or hybrid meeting. We also learned that friendship and collaboration created during many previous conferences, schools and congresses is stronger than the pandemic. But we also confirmed that personal contacts cannot be replaced by technology. To be able to create the world that we enjoy, we all need to make the effort to overcome the obstacles. This time the obstacle is COVID-19 – so we have to fight for equal access to vaccines for everyone in the world and with the vaccine hesitancy in some communities.

It is very important that we prepare for financial challenges in the coming years. This means that money has to be put aside for attending meetings. For ourselves and for the future generation of crystallographers and structural scientists. The IUCr – being a not-for-profit organization – uses the income generated by its 10 journals and International Tables to support young scientists around the world so the IUCr becomes their organization too.

Now we should look forward to new opportunities preparing for the post-pandemic world. Please publish in IUCr journals as you – and only you – are responsible for the steady growth of scientific knowledge and the impact factor (so overrated but still meaningful). Update your entry in the World Directory of Crystallographers (WDC), consider joining the IUCr Associates Programme and start preparing for the next meetings in your area and for the 26th IUCr Congress in Melbourne.  

13 September 2021

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