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Dean's bulletin, September 2020

Reflections of a conference junkie:


I started my doctoral studies at the Division of Inorganic Chemistry 2 at the Department of Chemistry here in Lund in 1986. Since then I have attended conferences every summer, often several, sometimes far too many. The value of maintaining close contact with old friends and research    partners, in combination with meeting new people with new ideas and impulses, is considerable – without a doubt. What has been particularly valuable for me has been exposure to activities that are some way away from my own field where I am faced with unexpected approaches. I have certainly expanded my research register and all these encounters have undoubtedly made me grow, but have I used my time in the best possible way? Would it have been more productive to spend time recovering?

I have no idea, but it would be naive to believe that these 35 years of busy summers have been an optimal strategy.

This past summer has been different. I have of course spent time in a number of telephone and digital meetings, but I have not been to Stockholm since December or outside Sweden since November. Nonetheless, things have worked out quite well, and I have not had such a long continuous summer break since I started upper secondary school.

The conference and meeting merry-go-round has stopped and when it starts turning again I hope that we have learned from the period we have been through. We can reduce impacts, both on the environment and ourselves, if we travel a little less. Having said that, we cannot completely refrain from physical meetings – my experience from digital meetings is that some work well, whereas others present difficulties.

The same thing can be said about teaching and research at home. Certainly, there are course components that work excellently on Zoom, but not all and not all the time. Certainly, we can communicate with colleagues without always having to meet, but we are still individuals with considerable social needs. Trust and a sense of belonging are created so much faster and more strongly in real life than online. Meetings online may be excellent for exchanging information or for making decisions, but I always leave online meetings a little more tired than when I went in. A physical meeting, on the other hand, often gives me energy and enjoyment.

Social distancing has become the new normal and when we have now slowly started the journey back, it is important that we remember the lessons learned. What are the most important functions of physical meetings and how do we prioritise them, now and in the future?

A couple of weeks ago I was involved in welcoming our new incoming international students to Sweden, Lund and Lund University. In meeting the group, I reexperienced the exhilarating feeling I used to have when standing in front of a new class of students. For me, the meeting – that magical meeting – is not a digital phenomenon, it requires physical presence. I look forward very much to a more open teaching and meeting environment, but until then, let’s continue onwards on Teams and Zoom!

Sven Lidin, dean