Before the lockdown we applied for and had been awarded GWVerse COST funding to host a workshop for the Black Hole Perturbation Toolkit in Prague in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately we had to put that face-to-face meeting on hold – hoping to host the workshop in March 2021 instead – but this opened a new opportunity: a virtual workshop. For the original workshop we had expected 25-30 participants but by the time the virtual workshop came around we had almost 200 participants registered! We had a range of great talks from contributors to the Toolkit and many of them also prepared awesome exercises, notebooks and extra material help people get to grips with various pieces of the Toolkit. It was amazing to see ~110 people in the Zoom room and ~20-25 people watching live on YouTube on the first day. All the talks were recorded on YouTube and can be watched again on the BHPToolkit YouTube channel and the talk material (slides, notebooks) can be found on the workshop website.
At the time of writing the videos have already amassed over 700 views. The first two days of the workshop were devoted to introducing the tools to new users with an emphasis on giving worked examples and exercises showing how the code works and how to use the code in your own projects. We also had short contributed talks from 8-9 people who spoke for 5 mins each on a topic related to, or already using, the Toolkit. It was awesome to meet new people using our code to make interesting calculations. The third day was the developer day and we set up a Slack channel to facilitate interactions between developers and potential new developers. This was a great success and already new code has been added to the Toolkit and I can see a lot more coming by looking at the spike of activity in the development branches.
The virtual workshop format worked far better than I could have ever imagined. A huge thank-you to our “local” organizing committee (Vojtech Witzany and Georgios Lukes-Gerakopoulos) for all their work behind the scenes; a huge thank you to all the speakers who gave consistently excellent talks that they had clearly put a lot of effort into preparing; and finally a huge thank you for all the attendees who turns up on mass and engaged throughout. It’s clear that virtual workshops give an opportunity to reach a large audience: we had 84 attendees from Europe, 37 from North America, 16 from Asia, and 5 from South America (rough stats based on an analysis of the email addresses people used to sign up – usually their host institution addresses but I had to remove all the .coms etc so not a perfect analysis). The map below shows the countries, based on my rough analysis, that attendees came from.
Given the huge success of the virtual workshop I think that even once the lockdowns are all over we will give serious consideration to running a virtual workshop again.