Open seminars: a new and good idea

One of the things I liked best about being an academic researcher was group meeting. Every week, a different student or scholar would present some fresh data from their own projects. And these meetings were casual and interactive: you could interrupt any time with questions.

In industry chances to keep up with fundamental discovery science outside of your own core area can be more limited. Folks (mainly job candidates) do visit the corporate world to give research talks, and of course industrial scientists still attend conferences, but those interactions — while invaluable — aren’t as informal. The work presented is always well-polished, and people usually shy away from long technical questions and discussion.

That isn’t the case with MicroSeminar: it’s a new(ish) online-only, publicly accessible research seminar in microbiology created by Jennifer Biddle and Cameron Trash. Once a month or so, people from all over the world log into a Google Plus hangout, or watch YouTube — live or when you get free time — as some of the new fresh hot research in environmental microbiology, microbial ecology, and biogeochemistry gets presented. The feel is informal, with lots of Q&A, and you don’t even have to leave home (or bed!). Here are some of the talks I’ve enjoyed so far.

And don’t just take my word for it. Here are some similar thoughts from Pat Schloss:

The cost of going to ISME [a conference] in Korea this summer? In the thousands. Cost of sitting with your laptop watching a seminar? Zilch. Jennifer is correct that this won’t kill conferences. Conferences have a huge social aspect and provide great opportunities for networking. But the science is frequently stale and pulled from the pages of last year’s AEM [a journal]. I think there’s great potential with this model to change how we disseminate information to our colleagues. Like I said, I think this is big, deserving of your attention and perhaps others will create parallel online seminar series that are either more specialized or more general.

And if microbiology isn’t your cup of tea? If you’re an academic in a different field? Like Pat says, maybe you should start another online seminar program like this one.

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