Our 42nd Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions Will Be Virtual
We are pleased to announce that SBM’s 42nd Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions will be entirely virtual in April 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we would love to see your smiling faces in Orlando, and we look forward to a day when life is“normal,” there is so much COVID-19 risk and uncertainty that we feel holding the conference virtually will be the best way to connect and share our science while keeping everyone safe.
A virtual conference means more attendees than ever before can participate in the largest yearly behavioral medicine gathering in the world! With on-demand and recorded sessions, your science can have maximum reach and impact, and there’s no need to pick between competing sessions.
Committing to virtual now allows our Program Committee ample time to plan an amazing virtual conference. It also allows us to be clear about what the 2021 meeting will look like from the beginning, even before we invite abstracts later this summer.
The Board of Directors just made this decision, and we wanted to share the news with you right away. We also want to be very transparent about our decision-making. Board members carefully considered our SBM values and our responsibility for members, attendees, society at large, and SBM’s long-term future. We especially considered SBM’s duty as a health organization, and we relied heavily on your responses to our COVID-19 survey. Many thanks to all who shared candid thoughts and fears. We hope knowing our 2021 meeting plan now gives you one less thing to worry about in these difficult, unprecedented times.
Some survey data points and poignant comments that especially moved the Board include:
- Respondents self-reported 105 institutions with travel bans that extend past our 2021 conference dates. Those without official bans have “unofficial” bans due to budget cuts. As one survey respondent wrote, “We will not be receiving travel funds from the university next year as part of cost saving measures.”
- Bans and budgets aside, many of you are not comfortable traveling, especially to a large event in Florida. “I'm not just scared to be at the conference. I'm scared to travel there and back,” a survey respondent said. That fear extends to how your attendance would impact others: “I feel safe and believe I would recover, but fear who I may contact inadvertently who could not recover.”
- Many respondents told us they would be uncomfortable attending a conference until a COVID-19 vaccine was in widespread use, and unfortunately, realistic projections indicate a vaccine will not be available until March 2021.
- Social distancing would help comfort levels, but would mean caps on the number of attendees. We would only have 25% of our normal attendance. Picture our large keynote ballroom, but with 300 chairs instead of 1,200. This would be a very different conference experience than what we have come to know and love about SBM. Not only would sessions feel empty, but the impromptu meet-ups and informal networking would also be significantly restricted.
- In-person attendance caps and COVID-19 risk would have the unintended consequence of excluding those who are immunocompromised or serving in caretaker roles. As one survey respondent wrote, “Excluding members who are already underrepresented or marginalized because of physical limitations or health conditions is not cool.” It also contradicts our SBM values and our 2021 meeting theme, “Going All In with Innovation, Inclusion, and Influence.”
- We all want SBM to lead the way as a public health organization by doing what is right to protect attendees, fellow travelers, and host city residents. A survey respondent put it best: “I would like for SBM to set an example by preemptively saying now that next year's meeting will be virtual.”
- 74% of survey respondents were interested in attending a virtual SBM meeting. For the 26% who weren’t sure, don’t worry—this will not be a days-long Zoom call. Our Program Committee is dedicated to making sure the virtual format is interactive, allows for worthwhile networking, features a mix of live and on-demand sessions, and makes sense for all time zones and work-from-home realities.
We will open abstract submissions in August, so start planning your presentations and look out for more information from us later this summer.
Monica L. Baskin, PhD, SBM President
Dori Steinberg, PhD, RD, SBM Program Chair