#FEMSmicroBlog: The World Microbe Forum goes online


On 20-24 June 2021, the World Microbe Forum took place in a completely virtual environment. No huge conference hall to get lost in. No overcrowded seminar rooms in which you could hear people mumble during lectures. No random conversations about the last presentation over coffee. Instead, microbiologists from around the world came together to virtually celebrate the latest science and discuss the current challenges. In this #FEMSmicroBlog, Sarah Wettstadt presents the World Microbe Forum including her own personal experience. #MicrobiologyEvents


Introducing a new online event

The corona pandemic had FEMS, ASM and 7 other societies from all around the world look for alternatives to organise the microbiology conference of the year. They chose to use a virtual platform so that the World Microbe Forum could completely happen online. This gave conference attendees the opportunity to follow the conference from home while still connecting with fellow microbiologists.

And the feedback from the community was overwhelming.

  • Registered attendees came from 114 countries
  • 740 invited speakers involved in all sessions
  • 550 h of video produced throughout the conference
  • 230 oral abstracts
  • 54 volunteers signed up to support the event
  • 42 exhibitors and 29 sponsors from different industries

The World Microbe Forum was meant to resemble an in-person event as much as possible. On the online platform, you could find an Exhibit and a Poster Hall and even a (video) library. Additionally, the poster sessions had audio and video functions for the presenters to create more appealing content and a live chat function to connect with the poster presenter.

To make networking easier, attendees could also schedule private meetings and video calls with others. Plus, for 24 h a day, someone was present in the Community Corner and the Information Booth always ready to discuss anything microbiology or to help.

I am not always the biggest fan of virtual conferences but @ASMicrobiology and @FEMSmicro have done a great job with the #WorldMicrobeForum. An amazing line up of interesting talks and events and an easy to navigate platform! – Gerrit Stuivenberg, @garybiotics

What was most surprising was the seeming endlessness of upcoming sessions, while the conference heavily focused on the current threats we are facing. The three most-watched scientific sessions were even on Emerging Pathogens, Pathogens and Disease Symposium: Bacterial Invasion and Pathogenicity and Space Microbiology. With such a diversity of 8 ASM tracks and 7 FEMS topics plus multiple sub-tracks and topics, it seemed that my microbiology thirst would be very much fulfilled these days.


Binge-watching the World Microbe Forum

And so on Sunday, the 20th, I stole my flatmate’s second screen and set it up on my desk. For one week, I wanted to live broadcast microbiology talks instead of beach volleyball games. And thanks to the conference being live 24 h a day, I did not even open Netflix throughout these days.

Instead, for about a week, it felt I was binge-watching the WMF. There were just so many great lectures and live sessions that highlighted how amazing microbes are.

Screenshot of the online platform of the World Microbe Forum
Online platform of the World Microbe Forum.

In the (European) mornings during breakfast, I joined the community corner. I chatted with fellow early birds about which sessions we were looking forward to that day and which ones we enjoyed the previous day. Then I either watched a session from the library that I did not make the day before, or I joined a live session.

This setup was just great. I could easily skip lectures during sessions – apologies to all the virologists that I did not listen to! And I could pause videos during lectures to cook lunch or have a meeting or look up and write down more details on the topic.

I didn’t think I would be a fan of the virtual conference, but I’m loving #WorldMicrobeForum. After the pandemic burn out and drain, I’m finding so much inspiration! Love hearing all the exciting (non-COVID) topics people have been working on! – Cecilia Thompson, @cmthompson15


New ways to network at the World Microbe Forum

Even though I did not present at the event, I think that people were still highly involved in scientific discussions. During the sessions, everybody could ask questions in a chat box and the conveners did great jobs in addressing as many questions as possible.

Some sessions showed pre-recorded videos but had after-chats scheduled in which people could discuss the video content. In my opinion, this was also a great opportunity to give people time to think about the content before engaging in a conversation about it.

Plus, as a budding science communicator, I was especially happy about the sessions on science outreach, science art and microbial literacy. Many science communicators that I so far only met on Twitter, I could finally see in actions – I sure had a few fangirl moments thanks to the WMF.

And it seemed I was not alone with my interest in science communication: The most-watched non-microbiology session was indeed the course on ‘Personal Branding and Digital Networking’. In this session, science communicator Ben Libberton talked about activities and exercises that everyone can do to better communicate their science to a broader audience.

Also, thanks to the online nature of the WMF, it was now possible for me to connect with people that I might otherwise not have met in person. So, in all, the WMF was a great platform to connect microbiologists and give them a feeling of a community again. I am sure that many were lacking their community during the past year.

#WorldMicrobeForum organized by @ASMicrobiology @FEMSmicro along with other international societies is fantastic. An exciting way to further break down silos. I hope a version of this is incorporated going forward even as we return to in-person gatherings. This is progress. – Larry Lynam, @scopedbyLarry


About the author of this blog

Dr Sarah Wettstadt is a microbiologist-turned science writer and communicator working on various outreach projects and helping researchers talk and write about their scientific results. Her overall vision is to empower through learning: she shares scientific knowledge with both scientists and non-scientists and coaches scientists in writing about their research. Sarah is blog commissioner for the FEMSmicroBlog and was a social media editor for FEMS for 1.5 years. Previous to her science communication career, she worked as a postdoc in Marían Llamas’ lab on Pseudomonas aeruginosa’s ability to use heterologous iron sources and completed her PhD with Alain Filloux investigating the type 6 secretion system in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

About this blog section

The section #MicrobiologyEvents for the #FEMSmicroBlog reports about events and meetings relevant to our network. These include world awareness days, FEMS-sponsored meetings or meetings of Member Societies and many more.

Do you want to be a guest contributor?
The #FEMSmicroBlog welcomes external bloggers, writers and SciComm enthusiasts. Get in touch if you want to share your idea for a blog entry with us!

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