During lockdown, the scientific community continues to meet and collaborate online

While the spread of COVID-19 has forced the scientific community to cancel seminars and conferences around the world, researchers are getting organised and recreating this essential part of their community life. They are finding new ways to meet, discuss and share ideas, through online seminars held across the world.

Mendes Oulamara, a doctoral student at the University of Paris-Saclay working at IHES, reflects on the collective efforts made by the scientific community at this exceptional time.

When I was a child, a few years ago, I thought that mathematical research was a mainly solitary activity where mathematicians found themselves alone with a blank piece of paper and a magma of ideas. When I set foot in research as it is practiced, I understood that if this phase exists, it is far from being the most important one and that working days can become synonyms for days spent discussing with friends in front of a chalkboard.

At a time when most of the scientific community is in lockdown, it is quite moving to see how new practices are being introduced to keep these interactions alive and maintain a dimension of collective effort even at a distance. Discussions via Skype and the like have been around for a long time, but the extent of the current confinement pushes us to improve on improvised solutions. That’s how I learned to use a smartphone or a tablet as shared whiteboards to scribble, erase, share sketches. Some of this acquired knowledge will certainly remain useful after the epidemic has subsided.

I was able to attend the first session of the One World Probability Seminar, a weekly online seminar that brought together more than 400 people. Despite all the problems related to the use of Zoom, it was held without any technical glitches, and we discovered together how best to use it: a discussion and questions in the written chat in parallel with the presentation, links to online resources and a free discussion slot at the end.

Similar initiatives are taking place in other research communities, more specialised meetings, and university seminars for instance. Let’s hope that these new forms of exchange, allowing to both fight climate change as well as become a stronger scientific community, will survive after the end of the pandemic.


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