Satellite Meetings: Tips for Engaging Stakeholders Remotely

Last year in June, I worked with Future of Research to host our MentoringFutureSci meeting, where we convened stakeholders, from graduate students to department leadership, and tasked them with developing a set of guidelines to improve research training environments. The meeting was different in that we also engaged remotely with stakeholders across six different campus ‘satellite meetings.’ This allowed us to cast a broader net with regards to stakeholder input, as well as provide other campuses the opportunity to engage their local stakeholders in conversations around mentoring and training environments.

Scientists across disciplines are now recognizing and coming to terms with both the inaccessibility and environmental cost of hosting large national and international conferences (see the awesome thread below).

While it doesn’t provide a full solution to many of these issues, the satellite meeting model, a hybrid of the webinar and traditional meeting styles, allows for meetings that are less costly yet flexible to engage with stakeholders across campuses. Coincidentally, I’ve been asked in the last month by two separate organizing committees to provide insights into how to successfully run a meeting with satellite sites, so I decided to write this piece for anyone else who is interested in the model. Below you’ll find my two major pieces of advice.

Have clear goals and structure

Like any meeting, one that engages satellites works best when there is a clear goal and structure for the meeting. There’s a story I read once in a development psychology/attachment theory piece about children feeling most safe and comfortable in a fenced in playground (room to play and explore but with clear boundaries). This also applies to your satellite meeting facilitators. In other words, you should have a clear schedule of the parts of the meeting that will be live-streamed, usually speeches, and the parts of the meeting that won’t, usually workshops and breakouts (see my rough sketch below, with the main meeting timeline on top, and the satellite on the bottom). Having a clear schedule with opportunities to tune into the livestream and participate in workshops also gives satellite organizers the freedom to tailor their own schedule to the pieces they think will be most relevant for their audiences, and organize their own parallel speakers and workshops should they wish to.

As you can see, the format that this meeting works best for is those that require participation in workshops and further input by stakeholders. The idea is to treat each satellite meeting as a small working/breakout group that convenes for each workshop and then reports back in the ‘large group reconvene’ session along with central meeting breakout groups. Satellites with many participants can also break up into small groups and report out one or two salient points that haven’t been reported at the main meeting. If there are more than six or seven satellite meetings and having all of them report out becomes unwieldy, have them submit their main points via chat for a point person at the central meeting to report out. Because you won’t have full control as to who will be organizing and facilitating the satellite meetings and workshops, having a clearly laid out goal and facilitation plan will help everyone start out on the same page. Which brings me to my next point.

Have clearly defined logistics

There are several aspects of the meeting that will logistically require to have a plan in place to assure smooth sailing and quick adjustment if and when hiccups occur:

  1. As you can imagine, you need a solid A/V set-up at your main meeting. You will need a room that can project the speakers’ slides, and that has the capacity to log into a chat room such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, or BlueJeans. Google Hangouts has a really cool live closed-captioning feature that makes for more accessible meetings. Most of these platforms give you control of who is muted so you can avoid feedback issues, and have a chat feature that can let you quickly communicate with your satellite facilitators. You will also need an A/V set-up that allows input from multiple microphones (multiple cameras are a plus). Remember that the satellite meetings won’t be able to pick up audio from participants at the main meeting unless they are speaking into a microphone. Satellite facilitators/organizers should designate a point person to communicate with the person in charge of A/V on the day of the meeting. Having point people’s phone numbers can help provide a means to communicate during troubleshooting tech issues.
  2. Set up a Google Site, Google Drive, or other form of organizing and collecting feedback from satellite meetings. I like Google Drive because it allows each satellite meeting to have access to materials relevant to their own satellite and take notes on a Google Doc that is either open to other facilitators or just the main meeting organizers and each individual satellite.
  3. Provide your facilitators with a pre-meeting packet that contains all of this information: links to drive/docs, a meeting schedule, workshop facilitation prompts, and logistical and A/V information for the day of the meeting. You can also provide them with standardized/template language for promoting the meeting at their campuses and tips and tricks for facilitating workshops if they’ve never done so before. For the latter, I used an adapted version of the facilitation guide from the Entering Research and Entering Mentoring curricula, which can be downloaded for free.

Concluding Thoughts

That’s it! You’re ready to run your own conference with satellite meetings. If you’re concerned about your participants’ limited ability to network given the remote structure, I will add that networking at both in-person and remote meetings requires accessibility and intention. Have your intake form note which participants are looking for connections and mentorship, who is willing to be contacted to mentor others, and then follow up after the meeting to provide people with this information and opportunities to connect. Depending on the size and purpose of your meeting, there are different issues that you will come across that can be creatively solved or adapted. I’ve alluded to some above, though I am sure there are others I haven’t covered. Like with general meetings, you will still have to keep in mind accessibility and representation. Having remote satellite meetings doesn’t by default make your meeting any more accessible to diverse audiences (see my comment above on subtitles, as an example). Likewise, the voices you choose to highlight and elevate, and those you choose to organize and facilitate satellite meetings will have a huge impact on stakeholder turnout and who feels represented and safe participating in workshops. As always, if you have any follow-up questions or comments, my inbox and Twitter DMs are open. Happy organizing!

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Scismic Lab Seeker

A great new resource that has been in development for some time and recently released its Beta version, Scismic, aims to “empower scientists to develop and take charge of their careers.” With this aim, Scismic founders Danika Khong, Elizabeth Wu, and Claudia Dall’Osso have developed and released Scismic Forum and Scismic Lab Seeker, and plan to add job platform tools in the near future as well. In contrast to our own Labmosphere Quiz, the data collected from their Lab Seeker tool are being presented publicly to any who hold a Scismic account. Because the ratings are kept anonymous, the hope is to move towards a more open and communicative scientific culture in which different mentoring and lab styles/environments are acknowledged and rewarded, and people are more carefully matched to their career needs: think Glassdoor meets Linkedin for biomedical research scientists. Continue reading

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Choosing the Right Mentor for Career Success

An excellent article has just been published on the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) blog, by Pinar Gurel and Adriana Bankston, summarizing recent efforts by the Future of Research and collaborating organizations on mentoring. In the article, they provide great advice for graduate students and postdocs seeking to expand and improve their mentoring networks or looking to begin in a new lab.

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On Mentorship and Ownership

A postdoc’s funding typically lasts 2-4 years: just enough time to start and finish a project and push it through to get published. In an ideal world, the postdoc who wants to become independent would then write a grant on what they have become an expert on. This, presumably, would be based on their most recent publication. However, it is rare that supervisors let postdocs take their projects with them, an issue which is most often not openly discussed before the start of the project. Here, a comment by Professor Ben A. Barres on what PIs, funding agencies, and young scientists should do to support a culture of good mentorship that enables young scientists to choose the right lab and to flourish in their chosen field.

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Join the Sisterhood

In the UK, men hold 90% of senior positions in STEM. This means in a committee meeting of ten professors, at any given university in the UK, it is likely that only one female professor will be present in the room. Professor Arnold, who holds the Crum Brown chair of Chemistry at Edinburgh University, knows this tale too well. As recently highlighted by the BBC, to strike a balance, she has formed the Sci Sisters . Being part of this network, or ‘Scientific sisterhood’ means you can easily find nearby peers who are in similar positions and ready to talk about the issues you experience – even if it is just over coffee.

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Gender bias in STEM

Reaching high academic ranks is difficult in science, given the scarcity of research funding and competitive pressure for high-impact publications. Some scientists however are born with a privilege that will make it relatively easier for them to reach those highest ranks.

Being a man in STEM means you are more likely to get an answer from your prospective PhD supervisor, to get this fellowship you applied for, and to be chosen based on a resume that is equally as good as that of your female peer. For women in STEM, as in many other fields, breaking the glass ceiling also means breaking into a male-dominated culture, in which the objectivity of even a scientist is blinded by gender.

This article describes how gender bias in STEM has manifested itself and is still rife in institutes and companies, as shown by two recent examples making the headlines.

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Redefining Success Stories and Breaking the Stigma: Tiffany Horan

For some, remaining in academia is the right choice. For Tiffany, the academic environment she found herself in was one which was stifling her growth, rather than encouraging it. Tiffany made the decision to leave academia; it was her decision to make, and hers only. Below are excerpts from a blog on her experiences as an autistic in academia, originally published on her blog:
Continue reading

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#OktoSay: Let’s Talk Mental Health

Last month was mental health awareness month. Because of this, when our friends over at Chronically Academic asked me to write a blog for their site, I decided to send them this piece on my recent realizations after battling with my own mental health issues, and in the way that having a strong support network both at home and work helped me manage and overcome them. As someone who has gone through it, I understand how hard it can be to reach out and ask for help, and how isolating things can feel. Believe me, it does get better, but only if you seek help and reach out. If you don’t have a strong support network or don’t know where to start looking for resources, check out our resource page on this site.

In healing solidarity,

Juan Pablo Ruiz

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Coming Out Autistic: Breaking the Stigma on Neurodiversity

There’s labels. For as long as you can remember, others have been sticking words onto you to make sense of what is in front of them. Those you make uncomfortable in school call you weird, strange. You can’t play with them because of these. Others realize very quickly that you will do and believe anything they say, so the labels accumulate in the whispers, the giggles, and the pranks. Those who love you and want to comfort you call you unique, special, and precious. Teachers will one day come to use these words as well, but to them they’ll add genius, talented, one of a kind. These will pepper recommendation letters, open doors.

But they will also pepper your ego, an ego that you now hide behind so that the other labels don’t matter. The ego comes at a price though, and the weight of the world’s problems starts to lean into you:

“You’re going to cure cancer someday, or AIDS!” they yell, again with the best of intentions. Your school parades you in front of parents as an example of what their own children can become: National Merit Scholars, perfect score on the SAT, admissions to MIT and Duke, full scholarships…labels. Peers you rarely interact with give you one last one before you leave, and it comes with an expectation: Most Likely to Succeed. No pressure. Continue reading

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