Presenting your research to the world in the age of coronavirus: Reflection on the GramAdapt seminar series

As the pandemic led to the cancellation of GramAdapt’s first major workshop, getting feedback and showcasing the project’s methodology had to be re-imagined. The result was a three-part online seminar series, with its structure informed and shaped by the pandemic. The importance of receiving feedback cannot be overstated and should not be taken for granted, especially when developing completely new tools and methods.

The work was nearly finished. The guestlist was confirmed, as was the program. Flights and accommodations had been booked for international guests. The workshop on March 25-27, 2020 was supposed to be a chance to showcase the team’s research and to get feedback on it – but also a chance to meet colleagues and friends and talk shop over coffee. 

Then the pandemic changed everything. As the need for showcasing our research – and most importantly, getting feedback on it – did not go away, we had to come up with alternatives. Initially, this took the form of online feedback sessions with some of the researchers we had previously invited to the workshop (you can read more on the feedback sessions here). However, presenting our research to the wider community and discussing it with them required something more extensive than the feedback sessions, and so the idea of an online seminar series was born.

The seminar series “Grammatical Adaptation - Strategies and Methods” was held in three sessions in November and December 2020. Each session consisted of three to four presentations, two by our invited speakers and one or two by our team members, all connected by a common theme and followed by a long general discussion. All of the presentations can be found here:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Our experiences during the early months of the pandemic directly contributed to the practical planning of the seminar series: for example, three short sessions were chosen over a long seminar due to the experiences with Zoom fatigue. In the end, these short sessions, each lasting roughly 2.5 hours, felt like a great choice, allowing the audience to stay more engaged with the presentations and the discussion. We also decided to break from the traditional structure of each talk being followed by a short discussion to having all talks back to back and then providing one long session for general discussion at the end. This felt appropriate for an informal workshop, allowing the participants to discuss the topics more generally around the sessions’ themes and relating the different presentations to each other and to the research of GramAdapt. This structure resulted in a lot of interesting discussion and feedback for the project, helping to achieve our goal for the seminar series.

Outline of the seminar sessions structure

Structure of the seminar sessions

Another goal was to showcase GramAdapt’s research to the academic community. Even though the webinar format allowed for a much larger audience than the original workshop would have, a decision was made to keep the seminar audience small, focusing on the people whose work more closely relates to the project. In the end, around 50 different people attended the seminar series.  Again, this resulted in an engaged audience with excellent questions and feedback to the project. More importantly, it showed how excited the community is about the project.

Ultimately, a webinar can never replace meeting your community in a physical space and all the socializing and informal discussion that comes with it. Despite the circumstances, the online seminar series was a very positive experience, which allowed the project to get feedback, discuss the aims and methods of the project, and ultimately feel validated in pursuing its ambitious goals.