The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted every corner of our society, in many cases bringing an end to traditional ways of doing things, and perhaps leaving a space in which we can create something new. This past year, the academic research community has been tested and tried like never before, yet the potential still remains for it to emerge from this crisis stronger, more inclusive, and more efficient.
As part of our new series, “Research in the time of Covid-19”, we will be gathering various perspectives on the current state of research. Our first interview is with Public Health Nutrition researcher from the University of Chester, Natalie Taylor. Read on to hear about Natalie’s experience as an early-career researcher throughout 2020 and discover her views on the opportunities and challenges when it comes to reforming research practices amidst the uncertainty of a global pandemic.
Morressier: What area of research do you specialize in? How did you feel as you prepared for presenting this research for the first time amidst the pandemic?
Natalie Taylor: My research is on the perceptions of food bank donors on the nutritional needs of food bank users. When the pandemic hit, I was worried that people would belittle my research or perhaps wouldn’t see the importance of food bank users getting the most nutritionally balanced meals as long as they are getting fed.
But at the end of the day, I had to look at the bigger picture and keep in mind that any research that you do is important in terms of contributing to a larger effort.
Morressier: How did you first get interested in this kind of research?
Taylor: I’ve been volunteering at a foodbank for a while now, and I noticed that many of the meals that I gave out had little to no nutritional value. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had done a degree in nutrition and was quite aware of daily needs, but I felt like if I were on the poverty line and needed help from a food bank I would appreciate meals that were much more nourishing, as opposed to things like packets of crisps. I was quite interested to see what others who did not have a background in nutrition would think about when they donate to food banks.
Morressier: What has your experience been like using virtual formats to attend conferences or meetings? How has it been connecting and collaborating digitally with students, researchers, and colleagues?
Taylor: My first conference presentation took place in December at the Nutrition Society’s Winter Conference Live 2020, hosted by Morressier. Although it ran smoothly from a technical perspective, I definitely felt a bit of ‘Zoom fatigue’ after a few sessions. Early-career researchers have had to adjust to digital formats as a means of not only conducting and sharing information, but also meeting and networking with other researchers, which can be difficult.
However, on the whole, it has been a positive experience. I was a lot more comfortable presenting my poster at the conference as opposed to if it had been in person. I think people generally feel more confident presenting themselves virtually, because you can choose how you want to be depicted, be it with a certain type of background, or without a camera view entirely.
Since I didn’t know what to expect from a conference, in-person or virtual, I felt like this was a good first step in the right direction, and now I will know what to expect from a face-to-face scientific gathering.
It’s also been much easier to arrange meetings with people. When I was meeting with my supervisor for my MSc, it was very straightforward to set up a quick call with her as opposed to travelling across campus. Virtual formats have been very helpful for communication in that sense.
Morressier: How do you see scientific conferences developing? Do you think there will be a move away from in-person conferences and towards virtual conferences in the post-pandemic future?
Taylor: I feel like the hybrid model would be the perfect combination of both. The good thing about the conference that I attended was that it was pre-recorded, so that people who couldn’t tune in were able to access conference content at a later date, which is very important. I also feel like it would be much more sustainable and cost effective to run a conference virtually, because of the elimination of travel costs, venues, catering, etc.
I think one of the main reasons that scientific gatherings have strictly followed the in-person model for so long is because that’s the way things have always been. Since the usual way of doing things has been altered this past year, I think a lot of conference organizers will now be less hesitant to incorporate virtual aspects into their events.
Note: This is part one of a two-part feature story.