#KeyLIMEPodcast 307: We belong together, virtually

Lara presents a paper that looks at conference from a variety of perspectives: learners and faculty; genders and sexual orientations;  economic demographics; family situations and the various responsibilities juggled by them all.  She presents the questions, “as we start thinking about going back to in-person conferences, we need to think about who was able to attend conferences BECAUSE they were online?” and, “How can we make sure they stay part of our communities and conferences as we move forward?”

Listen to her discuss with her co-hosts here.


KeyLIME Session 307

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Black et. al., Engendering belonging: thoughtful gatherings with/in online and virtual spaces. Gender and Education. 2020, vol.32, no. 1, 115-129


Lara Varpio (@LaraVarpio)


  • This paper asks us to consider everyone’s experiences of conferences: all learners and faculty; all genders and sexual orientations; all economic demographics; all family situations; all the responsibilities that are juggled.
  • These authors challenge us to think about the experiences of conferences from a feminist perspective. They point out that conference attendance and participation can be really problematic for some people. It requires time away from work and home, it requires you to travel, it requires money, and often you need to be on the podium to be funded so it also demands that you have successful work, and you need to be away from those you are responsible for — so at home, that can mean family members and at work that can mean patients, learners, and staff
  • As we start thinking about going back to in-person conferences, we need to think about who was able to attend conferences BECAUSE they were online? How can we make sure they stay part of our communities and conferences as we move forward?


  • “We use collaborative autoethnography to engage in inquiry about the roles of conferences, and their inhabited notions of representation, membership and inclusion/exclusion.”

Key Points on the Methods

  • This authors use autoethnography for this study. Autoethnography is a research methodology where the researcher studies their own culture. So this is NOT autoBIOgraphy. AutoETHNOgraphy builds from the experiences of single individuals—in this study, the 4 authors—and goes beyond that personal experience to examine the culture in which the storyteller is situated.
  • It is rooted in subjectivity, in interpretivist orientations
  • It has a small but growing tradition in health professions education—see work first authored by Laura Ferrell (2015, Autoethnography: introducing the I into medical education research; 2017, When I say autoethnography.
  • Rigor: there are several principles to consider.
    • Reflexivity – the continuous and explicit critique of how their own experience shapes the research.
    • Credibility—does the researcher really attend to other research findings and engage in a deep and meaningful critique of the social context
    • Transferability — does the research explain the context, themselves, and the issue at hand in sufficient detail for the reader to know if the findings of the autoethnography resonate with the reader, can the findings inform the readers’ own culture
  • In this paper, the authors started by separately writing their individual narratives, responding to the prompt: “to go or not to go?” They then shared their narratives with each other, discussed and pushed each others’ thinking and then wrote a 2nd narrative in response to a second prompt: “if not this, then what?”

Key Outcomes

  • The authors report Results with Discussion

Key Conclusions

  • Fist set of narratives describe their personal experiences of conferences, eg:
    • Being a parent with a partner who works full time and small children — one of whom is chronically ill — so she describes already holding on to her job with a fine, near-invisible thread and balancing families commitments too so that trying to get to a conference pulls the thread to a strangling strain
    • Trying to bring her family to a conference only to find herself at a conference dinner where she paid for her family to be there, and they were placed at a separate table, excluded and ignored.
  • In their analysis they discuss needing conferences that are more flexible, sustainable, and inclusive. They call for more imagination, suggesting we might consider doing away with the formal podium talks and replacing them with opportunities to engage with colleagues in more creative ways. They highlight the value of virtual confer-ring, of thoughtful online gatherings where we create spaces for listening and responding to what our research is and what it can be.
  • Second set of narratives describes their online confer-ring engagements:
    • Working together in meaningful ways to support the ideas of others, and to have their own ideas supported
    • Finding communities of people like them — for example, female academics with children all of the same age.
  • Conclusion: (reflecting that the paper was accepted for publication in 2019) They talk about how video conferencing, and shared virtual documents, and team collaboration platforms can make all this virtual conferencing effective

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