A group of neuroscientists organized a virtual conference incorporating an “online dating” system.
With academic conferences canceled around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the international research community is finding alternative ways to come together to present their work, exchange ideas and forge new relationships with people who share the same interests. same ideas in their region.
This week, Dr. Dan Goodman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania will host neuromatch – a free “non-conference” on the Web for neuroscientists. In addition to online presentations from guest speakers, the event includes an element of computer-assisted online networking, adapted from the mind-matching sessions that are a recent feature of the Cognitive Computational Neuroscience (CCN) conference.
“A number of conferences are already presenting online conferences,” Dan says, “but that only captures part of the conference experience. A really important part is meeting new people and starting new collaborations.
The mind-matching system uses summaries of submitted research papers and applies machine learning algorithms to automatically match participants to a series of 15-minute one-on-one discussions, which Dan describes as a bit of a speed -academic dating.
“The match algorithm works by finding groups of scientists who use similar words and word combinations to describe their searches, and excluding pairs that already know each other. This allows him to suggest new encounters between people who don’t already know each other, but really should, based on their research interest.
He was very impressed with the real version of CCN. “It worked incredibly well. For example, I discovered two people who were doing projects very similar to me – but neither of us knew each other.”
Break the ice, without warming the planet
Focused on the future and the climate emergency, the group wishes to reduce the environmental impact of academic conferences. After estimating that delegates would have traveled a total of about 3 million kilometers to get to a single conference last year, they had already planned to host an online networking event later this summer.
In response to the sudden cancellation of conferences, Dan and his colleagues were able to organize and advance neuromatch very quickly. Many prominent speakers from this year’s canceled events are attending, and in just two weeks, the two-day program of presentations, focus groups and networking has attracted over 1,200 registrations and 100 conferences.
The source code will be released as open source so that other conference organizers can try it out for themselves. Dan also has a final year undergraduate student project working on the scalability of algorithms and their application to other scientific disciplines and beyond.
“In the longer term, we would like to have some kind of social network where people can sign up and which periodically offers them new matches, like a dating site for scientists!