Planning an event during a pandemic

ATLAS Collaboration Early Career Scientist events in the second half of 2020

19 February 2021 | By

Participants of the ATLAS Early Career Scientist Board's Virtual Meet & Eat event, 16 November to 4 December 2020. (Image: ATLAS Early Career Scientist Board)

2020 was an incredibly difficult year, with “difficult” being an understatement. People were forced to adapt almost every aspect of their lives, and for better or worse, many of these adaptations are not going anywhere anytime soon. All we can do is continue to get by to the best of our ability, helping and supporting each other as much as we can.

As work goes on, we try to learn from these adaptations. This includes learning to accept the comfort of attending meetings in pyjamas, while also discovering the best course of action for the scenario of “Oh no! I have 1 minute until a meeting where I’d like to have my video on! Do I shower and put real clothes on or just throw on a hat and the first blanket that I can find?” In fact, due to the nature of our international collaboration, many of our colleagues had already adapted to the reality of virtual meetings years ago, having to connect to meetings based in European time zones from the west coast of North and South America or Eastern Asia and Oceania (to name a couple examples).

At the ATLAS Early Career Scientist Board (ECSB), we have also had to adapt in order to best represent and assist the early career scientists in our collaboration. We’ve learnt much along the way, and are continuing to improve. One of the biggest changes was moving all of our events in the second half of 2020 to be entirely virtual. While we would ideally all be together in person for such events, there have been some benefits to going virtual. The most positive aspect of this new virtual world is that we have increased attendance and inclusivity across all of our events, allowing us to more easily connect with our collaborators from all over the globe, and teaching us to be more empathetic towards our time zone-separated colleagues. Moving events to the virtual world has also allowed us to invite panelists from anywhere in the world for our Soft-Skills Workshops, host interactive breakout-room trivia during our new ATLAS member Induction Days, and take beautiful screenshots during our Meet & Eat events.

Highlights from the Soft-Skills Workshop and Meet & Eat events are shared below, and there will be a subsequent blog focusing on Induction Days. Hopefully the photos from the most recent Meet & Eat will make you smile as much as they did for us. And don’t worry, as far as we can tell, no one had to resort to the last-minute hat-and-blanket trick (for these photos at least).

Moving events to the virtual world has also allowed us to invite panelists from anywhere in the world.

LHC Soft-Skills Workshops

We teamed up with the early career scientist fora of the ALICE, CMS and LHCb experiments to continue our series of LHC Soft-Skills Workshops. In June 2020, the workshop covered CV writing for academia and industry. It featured a presentation from Muriel Colson and Rocio Alot Barajas, two experienced recruiters from CERN, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session with Freya Blekman from the CMS experiment, James Allibon from SGS (a business services company), and Albert Puig Navarro from ProtonMail.

“What are the key differences between writing a CV for academia and for industry?” “What is the most relevant information which should be included in a shortened version of your CV?” “How can you communicate appointment roles to those outside of your LHC experiment?” In response to these questions, here is some of the advice that stood out:

  • avoid clichés ("I always dreamt of becoming a scientist..."),
  • don't hide your mistakes – own them and use what you learned from them to your advantage,
  • make sure that every piece of information on your CV adds value (if it doesn't - leave it out!)

After the event we invited participants to swap CVs and apply what they had learnt from the event in a CV peer review.

For our next Soft-Skills Workshop in November, we covered scientific communication. The event kicked off with a presentation from Steve Goldfarb, chair of the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG), and Sarah Charley, US-CERN communications officer and writer from Symmetry Magazine. We then had a panel discussion with science communication experts: Andre David, Clara Nellist, Despina Hatzifotiadou and Harry Cliff, from the LHC experiment's outreach teams, and Connie Potter, Conference, Events and Special Guest Organiser at CERN. We owe the success of this event to the phenomenal presenters and panelists – they spoke about science communication in a clear and captivating way which kept the audience engaged throughout the entire event.

One piece of advice which resonated with us is that science communication takes practice, just like any other skill. Everyone is going to make mistakes and fail sometimes (even the experts could recall some cringe-worthy moments), so mistakes are simply important lessons that often lead to more learning (and sometimes a good laugh) for everyone involved!

Meet & Eat

The most recent (virtual) iteration of the now-traditional ATLAS ECSB Meet & Eat event took place from 16 November to 4 December. 37 pairs of junior and senior ATLAS scientists from all around the globe met for an informal chat over a meal or beverage to share their experiences, knowledge and different perspectives about being particle physicists, and also to simply have fun hanging out! The Meet & Eat events have always been received warmly by our community. During these trying times, the Meet & Eat events also play a special role in breaking the routine of only meeting colleagues for work-related calls.

We received many screenshots showing happy faces, and we sincerely thank everyone who made this event a success! Seeing all the ATLAS researchers chatting and smiling really put a smile on our faces – and we hope that the photos have a similar effect on you! The slow return to normalcy is on the horizon, leaving us hoping that the next ECSB blog post will include pictures of us hanging out together like we used to (you know, eating lunch across the table from friends instead of across the computer screen). We wish you the best possible start to 2021, as we look forward to times when we can hang out with our friends and colleagues in person again.