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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The privilege of academic research

It’s also important to solicit feedback and seek ways to improve the inclusivity and accessibility of future conferences

During the pandemic, conferences and seminars were held online.

Rather than let scholarly activity altogether cease, academics used technology to keep the show on the road to keep constructing knowledge with their colleagues.

Because Zoom made it possible for anyone with an internet connection to join an online event, conferences and the newly-dubbed ‘webinars’ became more democratic. Participants now came from farther afield than usual.

From Batanes to Sulu, from other countries, it was possible for scholars to enjoy learning and sharing opportunities formerly denied to them due to the cost of travel.

Now that the world has returned to face-to-face interaction, research conferences are being held in person again, here and abroad.

Taking advantage of the technology that proved itself as a stalwart communication partner during the pandemic, some conference organizers this year have offered a Zoom option for scholars who can’t make it onsite.

Other organizers, however, declined to do so.

One was a conference held recently in a neighboring SEA nation.

Researchers from a certain continent were allowed to join online, but not those from other countries.

How can such an exclusionary policy in any way be considered good for research?

Research is often perceived as an egalitarian pursuit, meritocratic in its selection processes, based on achievement rather than any other criteria.

But the reality within the world of academic research is that some conferences privilege some by insisting on face-to-face participation.

Such a policy excludes researchers who cannot afford the cost of travel and accommodation, exorbitantly high registration fees, and other related expenses. However, many talented researchers, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, face financial constraints.

They may be part-time or untenured and this may make them ineligible for university funding or grants.

But these are precisely the kind of people who need to present at international and local conferences, in order to climb the academic ladder.

It’s not only the lack of funds that may bar a researcher from physically participating in a conference.

There are also issues such as weak passports (difficulty getting visas) and medical/physical disability issues. Circumstances that are out of a person’s control should not limit their opportunities.

It’s true that face-to-face conferences foster better networking and collaboration opportunities. Being physically present at a conference allows for spontaneous interactions, discussions, and connections that can’t be replicated through virtual means.

But the privilege of in-person attendance perpetuates inequality within academia. By prioritizing those who can physically attend, conferences risk missing out on diverse perspectives and innovative ideas that could contribute to the discipline.

Excluding researchers who are good enough to have their abstracts accepted but can’t afford or are physically unable to travel also undermines the meritocratic ideals that should be fundamental to academic research.

Conferences that adopt exclusionary policies send a clear message that the value of research is not solely determined by the quality of ideas or the rigor of their research process, but is also contingent on one’s financial resources and physical condition.

Exclusionary policies also contribute to a lack of diversity within the research community.

Diversity in academia is not just a matter of social justice; it is essential for the robust construction of knowledge. When conferences privilege certain people, they limit the diversity of voices at the table.

The organizers of conferences that insist on face-to-face participation must also consider their role in perpetuating inequality.

Their policies may be excluding marginalized voices and reinforcing the status quo – in other words, they may be gatekeeping.

Organizers should create inclusive spaces that prioritize the quality of research and ideas over financial means or physical condition.

The privilege of research is a complex issue that should be critically examined within the academic community.

Conferences that insist on face-to-face participation, without providing alternative options for those unable to attend, perpetuate inequality, exclude talented researchers, and hinder the construction of knowledge.

Among the ways conference organizers can seat more researchers at their tables is by adopting a hybrid (onsite and online) format and being more sensitive about the cost of their registration fees and other fees.

It’s also important to solicit feedback and seek ways to improve the inclusivity and accessibility of future conferences.

By implementing proactive measures that embrace inclusivity, conference organizers can truly advance the construction of knowledge, celebrate diversity, and ensure that academic research remains a vibrant and equitable endeavor for all.

* * * FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO / Email:

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