A first-of-its-kind online Scottish Vision Group (SVG) conference, organised by PhD students, took place on March 26th, 2021. SVG is an annual small, friendly, tight-knit conference for vision scientists. Every year, a picturesque location in Scotland is chosen where researchers come together and share their work on vision science. When lockdown began in March of 2020, it was only a few weeks before the annual meeting. Many of us had been preparing to present our work while for some of us, PhD students, this would be the first time attending a conference and were looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled, and we were hit with a year of homeworking where social interactions were limited.
The knowledge exchange, as well as the networking aspect of a conference are key elements for research progression. Nobody in the vision research community wanted to miss the conference, a second year in a row. So, rather than let the pandemic thwart this much-loved event, a group of PhD students from the Universities of Aberdeen, St Andrews, and Liverpool banded together to organise a virtual version of the annual conference. We set about our task to create an atmosphere as close to the usual in-person event as possible and encouraged early career researchers to present their work in a supportive environment.
So, on the 26th of March 2021 after months of work and organisation the conference took place and was well received by all in attendance. The event was kicked off by a talk by Professor Ian Thornton from the University of Malta titled, “Searching through sequences using the MILO task” where he focused on findings from this task where participants have almost perfect memory for previously presented items that allows for them to be ignored effectively. Then early career researchers, including us, took the floor for the day and presented what they have been working on, including experiments with results or just research plans for when things reopen. Topics included crowding, biological motion, colour vision, attention, visual search, and illusions. The day was rounded off by a closing talk by Professor Nicholas Wade from the University of Dundee on stereoscopic art. In this talk, Nick talked us through the history of this type of art through practical examples that we could see on our screens using red-cyan glasses.
One of the most things for early career researchers to do is to network. Building up a degree of social capital is essential, and conferences supply an important opportunity to, at the very least, get your name and face out there among the academic community. We wanted to keep this important function and put on a virtual social after the main event had concluded. This was well attended, and many stories were exchanged until well into the evening.
To commemorate the event, the University of Aberdeen funded custom red-cyan glasses to be used in the closing keynote, sent out to everyone who requested a pair in the event’s sign-up page. Many thanks to everyone who presented their work and who contributed to the great day. A special thanks to Dr Jasna Martinovic for giving us this opportunity and providing support, Professor Arash Sahraie for financial support of the conference on behalf of School of Psychology, Mrs Rhona Moore for help with the organising and the University of Liverpool for providing an online platform for the event. Lastly, we want to express our thanks to all the attendees who supported the even and bared with us throughout. We are extremely grateful to be part of such an active, supportive, and innovative environment as the Scottish Vision Group. While presenting at a conference you are simultaneously organising was a new challenge it was a wonderful experience for all of us on the organising committee and we are very proud to have been able to restart SVG and bring this vision science community together once again. We cannot wait until we get to meet each other in person again!
Alexander Donald, Danai Papadaki and Ana Rozman are PhD students at the University of Aberdeen.