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2020 Ubiquitin & Friends ZOOMposium

02 Jun 2020

The 2020 edition of the annual "Ubiquitin & Friends" symposium was held in a different format - participants from around the world joining in remotely via a meeting platform. Tim Clausen and Renator Arnese reflect on the experience.

How do we keep the life of a scientist “normal” during the pandemic? While the VBC campus has restarted its research operations, a fundamental part of scientific life is sharing results with the community. And the Ubiquitin ZOOMposium, actually the first virtual meeting in this field, was a great success, enabling the joyful gathering of the research community.

The “Ubiquitin & Friends” symposium has grown over the years to become a highly anticipated and appreciated event in the field. With the 7th iteration of the meeting being scheduled on the 14th and 15th of May, despite the ongoing pandemic it was decided to still host the meeting, with a novel ZOOM format. The effort of the whole VBC Ubiquitin Club, supported by Sonja Lorenz from University of Wuerzburg, was absolutely worth it, and the meeting was a great feat!

Rachel Klevit, a former keynote lecturer, once said “Even if you think you are not working on a ubiquitin related pathway, you will likely end up studying ubiquitin.” This year’s symposium showed that this is indeed the case. The exciting mix of ubiquitin connected topics touched on protein quality control, autophagy, mechanism of intricate (de)ubiquitination enzymes and regulatory signaling in transcriptional and translational processes; all topics presented by a stellar lineup of top-class scientists

Compared to the standard 100 participants cap to ensure a more familiar environment, this year the meeting was joint by 500 participants. The thirst for ubiquitin was real: all the spots were taken, with an average connection of around 300-350 people at the same time, the biggest audience that the “Ubiquitin and Friends” Symposium has ever had.

But cold numbers are not important: what matters is the quality of the talks and the exchange of ideas, and also in this regard the meeting was absolutely outstanding. The virtual discussions after every talk were very exciting, despite the unusual format. Attendees with questions could connect their audio and video after raising their hands virtually, to directly interact with the speakers. Moreover, the Zoom chat allowed also people to type in their questions, which would then be read to the speaker by the host of the session. This is for sure highly appreciated by people that don’t feel comfortable to talk in front of big audiences, and at times refrain from asking questions at these events. Importantly, it was also possible to include short talks into the meeting program - as a surrogate of the poster session – and to allow early-stage researcher to present their data. And finally, to have a democratic vote on the best student talks of the meeting; actually, a very pleasant experience that contrasts to the closed door award decisions at regular conferences.

Of course, networking is a crucial aspect of conferences, so it was decided to create a space for a more intimate communication among the attendees. Instead of the “lunch with the speakers”, we had the chance to interact with them in a separate, more informal Zoom session, limited to 10 people.

To conclude the symposium, we had the chance to participate in a round table discussion hosted by Jessica Polka, Cynthia Wolberger and Hartmut Vodermaier with the title “Publishing in 2020”, focused on the revolution of pre-prints. After more than one hour of discussion, it was very insightful to see how open science is changing our field, and how also funding agencies are adapting to this.

Despite (very) few technical problems, the meeting run smoothly, and all the attendees were enthusiast. It was also pointed out how this could be the future of conferences, especially considering the attempt of the campus to reduce the carbon footprint. This could be achieved with an “hybrid” conference format: while a meeting would still be held with a standard layout, in parallel virtual spots with reduced fees would be set up. Aside from helping the environment, this would allow labs with lower travel budgets, and grant as many people as possible the chance to participate in conferences without long travels, and with more flexible schedules.

Having the 7th “Ubiquitin and Friends” symposium with a remote format, it was not possible to conclude the meeting with a proper celebration, as in the previous meetings. To make up for it, all the speakers of this year obtained a small surprise present, a Sacher cake, hopefully priming them to join the real event in the coming year. In 2021, the “Ubiquitin & Friends” symposium will be a satellite to the “Target Protein Degradation” Keystone meeting, happening in Vienna! See you next year! Yours Renato & Tim

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