As a student, conferences can be intimidating, but being able to attend in your pyjamas certainly helps. Other benefits of virtual conferences include not having to worry about queuing for coffee at the break or whether you will be judged for leaving one talk to attend another. On a more serious note, the NCEO/CEOI conference, held on the 24th and 25th of June 2020, brought together two organisations and communities in celebrating the work done to improve how we observe Earth from space.
Having to hold the conference in a virtual setting certainly did not detract from the science. A personal highlight for me was seeing the first scientific talk of the conference being a PhD student, Mary Langsdale, presenting her work on land surface temperature and emissivity measurements. While inviting a student to open a scientific conference may not seem like a significant message to some, I personally think it says a great deal about the inclusivity of these two organisations and the conference.
While the week beforehand was a learning experience for the team assembling the conference presentation areas, day 1 proved to be an even steeper learning curve. Various technological and sound issues kept us busy all day, but the success was owed to the patience of all the attendees, particularly the chairs.
At the end of the first day a small meeting between the organisation team and some of the directors was held in which we were already able to learn from the mishaps and even laugh about some of them, but of course celebrate the success of it also. This led to a noticeably improved day 2, with a smoother chat flow and better time keeping. The feedback we received highlighted the improvements over night, which was exceptionally rewarding.
The conference had over 280 registered participants in total and approximately 70 presentations. Organising that many people was an enormous task and a lot of the credit is owed to Fazila Patel, who showed excellent leadership, both in terms of guidance, but also always being open to suggestions and remaining calm throughout.
If NCEO/CEOI were to host a virtual conference in the future – there is now plenty of experience of how to do so! Finally, it’s important to re-iterate that everyone who attended was part of making it so successful, so thank you all.