Dr Shazia Zafar reflects on attending recent online conferences to present her works on palliative care and domestic abuse, and how the experience differs from attending conferences in person.

In August, Dr Shazia Zafar presented her research study on palliative care centres at the NIHR Day Centre Research Forum. The study evaluated the Palliative Care Day Services at Marie Curie Hospices around the UK. This three-centre research involving patients, family members and staff was conducted in Belfast, Edinburgh and West Midlands.

On 13th September, Dr Shazia Zafar presented another research study online at the 4th European Conference on Domestic Violence in Ljublijana, Slovenia. The study, 'Quantitative Phase of Mixed Method Study - Evaluation of a Domestic Violence and Abuse Primary Care Referral Programme in the West Midlands (UK): A Focus on Health and Deprivation', is a mixed methods study involving a broad collaboration across West Midland's GP Practices, Women’s Aid agencies, CCGs, Public Health England and women survivors of domestic abuse and violence, as well as advocate educators from IRIS.

“By 2021, I had expected to be attending conferences to present my work in person,” Shazia explains. “There’s something quite different about that. Both of these presentations were online.”

Missing the audience

“In August, having the presentation online allowed for my colleagues from Northern Ireland to join me and we delivered our research in three parts, together. This may not have been possible had the forum taken place physically,” she reflects. “The negative part of this was not being able to network or directly see the large audience. It was the first time a large number of delegates had attended this forum—hopefully attracted due to my research—and had I seen this in person, it would have lifted my spirits after being in lockdown and working from home for a long period of time.”

The European Conference on Domestic Violence attracted international delegates, and was held in Slovenia. “Having never been to Slovenia, I felt gutted that the conference was online. It would have been a different experience if the conference had taken place in Slovenia,” says Shazia. “Attending an international conference has the appeal of being in a new or foreign place. Moreover, the networking at an international conference is just as important as the lectures. Trying to network online left me feeling that part of the conference was missing.”

Finding connections

There were other ways for conference delegates to connect online, but Shazia feels that this was harder work than an in-person conference. “This isn’t quite the same as saying hello over a cup of tea, or coffee if you’re in Europe—not that I missed the biscuits or anything!” says Shazia. “I missed proper chats with delegates throughout the day, then reconnecting over dinner. The conference was all day for a total of three days. Three days of looking at your screen was not just awful for the eyes, but left me with a headache.”

There are some practical positives to participating in a conference online, however. “I didn’t miss having to run from one end of the venue to the other, jumping out of one talk and entering another, huffing and puffing out of breath from the three flights of stairs I had to climb.  But I would still attend a conference in person any day!”

Shazia received some wonderful feedback for her NIHR presentation, on behalf of the organisers: “Thank you for your most interesting presentations at the Day Centre Research Forum this afternoon. I found it very enjoyable and engaging, and the number of questions was testament to the fact that others clearly found it the same. This has been our best attended Forum ever.”

View Shazia’s PowerPoint presentation on palliative day care centres.