ASCB opts for a virtual annual meeting once again

Cell Bio 2021 – an ASCB|EMBO Meeting will be held online after the Council of the American Society for Cell Biology voted unanimously to do so during a February 27th meeting. Although many of us are seeing a cautious return to in-person gatherings, ASCB meeting planners and Council agreed that the protocols needed to create such a meeting for cell biologists would be too challenging and too costly.

Cell Bio Virtual 2021 has been set for December 1 to 10, 2021.

The decision to go virtual once again rests in the fact that planning an in-person meeting during the pandemic must prioritize the health and safety of attendees and staff arriving to the meeting, attending the meeting, and leaving the meeting.

“With the continued spread of the virus and a lack of widespread availability of an effective, safe vaccine, an in-person meeting would not look like what we are all used to,” said Alison Harris, ASCB Director of Meetings. “There would be mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing in place, and inability to move freely throughout the meeting and space. This would inhibit networking, discussions, and the ability to see all the content desired. This would not provide the same value for attendees while potentially exposing people to COVID-19.”

ASCB meeting attendees come from across the globe and have all been impacted differently by the pandemic. The economic impact varies, and travel restrictions still apply in many regions. When it comes to equity and inclusion, a virtual meeting provides fair and equitable access to the meeting for everyone, including those in countries that may be unable to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in 2021. Furthermore, those who are not allowed to travel due to restrictions set by their institutions or countries, or who should not travel for health reasons, will benefit from the same experience as everyone else in attendance.

Registration fees

In addition to making the decision to go virtual this year, ASCB has also decided to charge fees for attendance. After concluding ASCB’s first virtual meeting just a few months ago, which was free for members, you might be asking yourself why. Let’s take a look into what factors were considered to help you understand why these decisions were made.

“The coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted the nature of scientific conferences,” Harris said. “Across the field, the beloved in-person meeting has been replaced with an online version. In the last 12 months, organizations had to guesstimate what the cost would be to produce a fully virtual meeting, while also taking into consideration the presumed economic impact their members incurred due to the pandemic. As a result, many organizations, including ASCB, decided to waive registration fees to attendees; at the very least to their members.”

However, circumstances have changed in March 2021. Meeting registration, whether in-person or virtual, helps to cover the costs to host the meeting. While most organizations had offered some level of free registration to their attendees over the last year, this does not mean costs were not incurred.

“A virtual meeting of our size requires expensive technology and production,” Harris said. “The registration fee charged helps to offset some of those expenses. Despite offering free registration to ASCB and EMBO members in December 2020, the ASCB has an insurance policy that should allow us to recover some of the lost revenues. In 2021, however, the insurance companies no longer offer coverage for a pandemic. While we would love to offer the meeting for free, it is not a sustainable model to ensure we can continue to host great content year after year or support our members and those in the cell biology community.“

ASCB will offer rates that are approximately 50% of our typical in-person rates, and there are no additional expenses for travel or hotel. Even with this charged registration fee, the ASCB is budgeting a substantial financial loss for the 2021 meeting.

Thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we navigate the uncertainty of the current climate and future meetings. We hope our decision to take Cell Bio 2021 virtual adds some certainty to an otherwise uncertain time. We look forward to seeing you in person in 2022, but until then, we look forward to hosting you online.

About the Author:

This post was collaboratively written by several ASCB staff members.