Remote Participation FAQ

Question 1. Why are you doing this? Isn’t it better to go to conferences in person? Won’t remote participants miss out on all the critical face-to-face, informal interaction that can only happen on-site?

Yes, it is better to go to conferences in person, and yes, remote participants will miss out on those things. There is no technological substitute for in-person conference attendance, and there likely never will be. We assume everyone knows this already. On the other hand, even in a relatively narrowly defined academic specialization like prosody, in any given year there are already more high-impact, high-excitement conferences and workshops taking place around the world than even the most mobile, carefree, and generously subsidized among us could ever contemplate attending. Travel is wonderfully enriching, and necessary, but it can also be expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming. Even where the spirit, body, and wallet are willing, we all have responsibilities to our families, home institutions, and so forth, that limit the amount of jet-setting we can realistically accomplish in a year. The vagaries of world politics, Kafkaesque visa regimes, etc., compound the problem, and of course for researchers with mobility limitations, frequent travel may be all but impossible.

So most of us are going to have to pick and choose the conferences that we actually attend in person, and then the rest of the time, well, we mostly just hope people post their slides on their websites, or that there is a published proceedings volume, or the like. Remote participation options like the ones we are offering here can help bridge this gap, making the goings-on at academic meetings a little more transparently accessible beyond the set of people lucky enough to attend in person. None of the technologies we are implementing are entirely new, or unique to Speech Prosody, of course. But none of them are considered “standard” yet by conference organizers in our field either. Which brings us to Question 2.

Question 2. Seriously? You’re charging me money for this? I thought everything on the internet was supposed to be free!

Well, yes. And sometimes people do offer some of these opportunities, like access to archived video, for free. The problem is, all these things are expensive and time-consuming to implement. In the case of Speech Prosody, we are fortunate to have received a small grant from NSF Linguistics (BCS-1542161, Linguistics, National Science Foundation: “Facilitating Remote Participation at International Scientific Conferences”), which will cover most of our costs, thus saving us from financial ruin in the event that the world market for remote participation in prosody conferences turns out to be less robust than we’ve imagined. And indeed, other conference organizers may receive grants, or commitments of resources from their home institutions, or corporate sponsorship, that will make remote participation strategies like the ones we are offering feasible, without relying on fees paid by the public. But for remote participation to become not just a luxury item at isolated conferences and workshops, but really part of the “standard” package, it will be necessary for it to be sustainable, and sustainable means that it can rely on an independently viable business model for implementation, so that it will be possible, and not financially ruinous to offer, even when grants, sponsorships, and so forth turn out not to be available. Part of what we hope to accomplish with remote participation at Speech Prosody is an exploration of what this model should look like going forward. Which remote participation options are people actually interested in using, and what are they willing to pay for them? This project aims in this regard to be a proof of concept.

Question 3. Fine. So what are you going to do with the money?

In the event that this project brings in money above what we need to cover our costs, those profits will be distributed right back to the scientific community. Depending on their timing, we will either award them to as many student participants in Speech Prosody 8 as we can, in the form of retroactive student travel awards, or we will transfer the funds to the organizers of Speech Prosody 9, to fund student travel to that conference, wherever it may be held.

Question 4. Are you concerned that if you make remote participation too attractive, people will stop going to conferences altogether, thereby destroying our field?

A little. On the other hand, we think (and initial survey results agree) that most people would prefer to keep remote presentation of talks and posters to a small minority of the presentations at any given conference, just to keep the center-of-gravity of the event on site. So we have done this, and would recommend others do so as well. Most of the remote participation we are talking about then, will be done by audience members that aren’t presenting at the conference, and we think, in most cases, are just deciding between remote participation in the conference and no participation in the conference, rather than between remote participation and in-person attendance. And because conference attendance is usually about so much more than just hearing talks and asking questions, and because everyone knows this, as noted in Question 1 above, we think it is unlikely that too many people that realistically might have traveled to a conference in the first place might decide to just stay home and catch the YouTube version instead.