This collaborative paper on the 2021 Microbes and Social Equity Symposium was invited by the Challenges journal’s editor-in-chief to submit a contribution about the group’s activities, and the together the session organizers, speakers, student assistants, and I wrote about our experiences putting this together. The journal is dedicated to published highly interdisciplinary research which looks things from multiple perspectives and which contributes to Planetary Health.
We learned that, much like microbes, audiences don’t always act the way you expect them to. Even better: we learned that by providing collaborative working time after listening to speaker sessions, which could be used to get our thoughts down on paper, we could capture the magic and inspiration of the conversations we had post-talks and revisit those later as research and outreach resources.
Ishaq, S.L., Wissel, E.F., Wolf, P.G., Grieneisen, L., Eggleston, E.M., Mhuireach, G., Friedman, M., Lichtenwalner, A., Otero Machuca, J., Weatherford Darling, K., Pearson, A., Wertheim, F.S., Johnson, A.J., Hodges, L., Young, S., Nielsen, C.C., Kozyrskyj, A.L., MacRae, J.D., McKenna Myers, E., Kozik, A.J., Tussing-Humphreys, L.M., Trujillo, M., Daniel, G.A., Kramer, M.R., Donovan, S.M., Arshad, M., Balkan, J., Hosler, S. 2022. Designing the Microbes and Social Equity Symposium, a novel interdisciplinary virtual research conference based on achieving group-directed outputs. Challenges, 13(2), 30.
Abstract: The Microbes and Social Equity working group was formed in 2020 to foster conversations on research, education, and policy related to how microorganisms connect to personal, societal, and environmental health, and to provide space and guidance for action. In 2021, we designed our first virtual Symposium to convene researchers already working in these areas for more guided discussions. The Symposium organizing team had never planned a research event of this scale or style, and this perspective piece details that process and our reflections. The goals were to 1) convene interdisciplinary audiences around topics involving microbiomes and health, 2) stimulate conversation around a selected list of paramount research topics, and 3) leverage the disciplinary and professional diversity of the group to create meaningful agendas and actionable items for attendees to continue to engage with after the meeting. Sixteen co-written documents were created during the Symposium which contained ideas and resources, or identified barriers and solutions to creating equity in ways which would promote beneficial microbial interactions. The most remarked-upon aspect was the working time in the breakout rooms built into the schedule. MSE members agreed that in future symposia, providing interactive workshops, training, or collaborative working time would provide useful content, a novel conference activity, and allow attendees to accomplish other work-oriented goals simultaneously.