Student - September 19, 2019

‘Conferences are badly in need of an update’

Roelof Kleis

According to blogger Donatella Gasparro, most scientific conferences are boring. Very boring. But at the Wageningen Soil Conference, she witnessed some good attempts to reform the art of conferencing.

‘No PowerPoint allowed. That’s what the Wageningen Soil Conference board told the Masterclass organizers for the 4th edition of the soil conference, which was held at the end of August. I haven’t attended many, but we can probably all agree: conferences are usually boring. Very boring. At the WSC 2019, though, they really made an effort to bring in some innovation and interactivity.

Escape room

As well as the morning presentations, keynote speeches and orals, the afternoons were reserved for interactive masterclasses that ranged from field excursions to virtual reality sessions. I was lucky enough to be involved in co-facilitating one of the masterclasses – maybe one of the coolest. A colleague and friend, Mariana, designed an Escape room based on the European CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) post-2020 reform and asked me to facilitate the escaping process with the group of participants in one of the three escape rooms. Each group, representing an imaginary EU member state, had to put together their own Strategic Plan through a series of challenging puzzles. The engaging one-hour game was followed by an explanatory debriefing.

Make learning exciting

These kinds of session end up being way more informative and effective than simple slides in a passive presentation. Playing a game or doing something hands-on triggers memory and thinking and makes learning and discussing important topics fun and exciting. It’s great to see that science is slowly picking up on this. Conferences are badly in need of an update.

One more fun fact about the innovation at the WSC: the name badges were made of biodegradable papery material filled with wildflower seeds. Brilliant idea. Except that by day two, the badges were already falling apart. By the end of the conference, I laughed so much looking at the shredded pieces of paper hanging from people’s necks...’

Donatella Gasparro is a Master’s student of Organic Agriculture, from Italy. You can read all het blogs at

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  • Leo van der Heijden

    Another suggestion for modernizing scientific conferences: make more use of digital tools and organize more e-conferences in stead of face-to-face conferences to reduce the CO2-footprint of scientific research through traveling by plane. Or organize blended local face-to-face subconferences that are digitally connected to a global conference.

    Of course science is important for society. But only if it does not contribute to the climate crisis.