It is surprising that in today’s digital world, the majority of networking among researchers and industries takes place in professional conferences and conventions. According to conventionindustry.org, nearly 1.8 million meetings took place in the U.S during calendar year 2009 which involved an estimated 205 million participants. This generated more than $263 billion in direct spending (costs related to the purchase of accommodation, travel and other related activities).
It is quite impossible for anybody, be it a researcher or a business person, to work in isolation. Having a strong network in your professional and personal lives is important for you to access opportunities to grow. Students, scientists, industry experts and professors meet at conferences, all seeking the same thing – expanding and strengthening their network. Most attendees have a goal in mind which they seek to achieve at the event – meeting an important person, talking their way into a research group, finding a collaborator, etc. But attending an event doesn’t it come without its own share of challenges.
- There’s money involved
Attending a conference almost always involves paying a registration fee and/or purchasing tickets to specific events. Other costs include travel, accommodation, food and incidental expenses. Even if the conference is free (which is rare) or offers a student discount, the cost of attending it may often be prohibitive for many.
A study by conventionindustry.org says that “the total direct spending associated with U.S. meetings activity in 2012 is estimated at over $280 billion. Approximately $130 billion (46%) of the direct spending in the meetings industry is on travel and tourism commodities such as lodging, food service, and transportation. The majority of direct spending, however, is not travel-related, with $150 billion or 54 percent involving meeting planning and production costs, venue rental, and other non-travel & tourism commodities…”
While reliable statistics are hard to come by, a report published by IEEE in 2007 shows that their average conference registration fee was $451. However, the registration fee only accounts for 24% of total costs, while airfare and hotel costs take up 26% and 24% respectively. Affordability is the primary restrictive factor that prevents individuals and organisations from getting the kind of guidance and support they deserve.
- It costs time, energy and effort
Planning for a conference can involve weeks and months of preparation. This could include getting paperwork done, researching on the people attending, writing to them and trying to fix appointments beforehand, registering for events, trying to volunteer so that you can save costs, as well as working overtime to make up for the leave you’ll take from work during the event. Attending a conference can also be mentally and physically exhausting, especially for introverted people.
Research tells us that a large number of people are just plain uncomfortable with professional networking. Many times, successful networking requires people to sell themselves and make the right kind of impression. But this may not be everyone’s cup of tea – some people may be quite reluctant to put themselves out there. Most people who do attend professional conferences do it as an unavoidable aspect of working life.
- There is hope but there’s no certainty
One would think that having spent so much of resources into attending an event, one would be guaranteed of a satisfactory outcome. However, often, you may have to come away disappointed from the event. Perhaps you didn’t get to meet the person you wanted to because he/she didn’t turn up last minute, perhaps there was no time. We also have to factor in any unfortunate circumstances that might prevent you from getting the best out of the event (such as a last minute emergency or an illness). While you may hope to get what you’re looking for at a conference, there is no guarantee. There’s no assurance. It’s, at the end of the day, a gamble.
With social media gaining popularity in the academic and business worlds, there is growing accessibility to researchers and industry experts from all over the world. According to an study published in 2015 by the Pew Research Centre, 22% of AAAS scientists believed in using Twitter or Facebook to promote their work. LinkedIn groups are also becoming a popular hunting ground for potential collaborators and partners.
It is evident that there’s a glaring lack of a digital platform that specifically helps scientists, businesses people, entrepreneurs and students connect and collaborate with each other on specific projects. If you were to look for somebody who can help you with a statistical review of your data, you might have to spend hours doing research, tracking down the right person(s) online, send a mail and hope that they will reply. And even if they do, they:
- a) may or may not be willing to help
- b) they might be bound by restrictive policies, and
- c) there might be a mismatch of budget.
Kolabtree aims to solve that problem, by allowing people to connect with a reputed expert, who willingly offers his/her expertise online. With already 2000+ postdocs from all over the world on board, including those from institutions such as Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford and MIT, it aims to reduce the monetary burden that comes with attending a professional conference. Kolabtree assures you of quick help on specific subject areas, facilitates easy access to specialist freelancers, and allows you to choose your own budget per project.
Having an online collaboration platform allows a specificity and certainty that doesn’t come from attending professional networks, where there is always some degree of ambiguity involved. Ultimately, the goal is to democratize access to research, so that more and more people benefit from it – not only scientists and industries but also individuals like you and I.