Why KE mattered to me in 2020

David Bowkett of UK SPINE took the time to look back at 2020’s move to virtual events, and how he found the December PraxisAuril conference.

I listened to some great talks over the five days and was really impressed with how KE professionals from across the UK had adapted during the pandemic.

In April 2019, I joined the UK SPINE programme, an ambitious KE project funded by Research England’s Connecting Capabilities Fund. UK SPINE’s aim is to accelerate the development of new medicines that will improve health in old age. The programme brings together HEIs, the NHS, industry and other stakeholders to build KE infrastructure that will help us reach this goal. 

One of the first things I did in this new role was to book myself in for the Harrogate 2019 PraxisAuril conference. I was keen to meet the wider UK KE community and learn as much as I could from them. It was my first experience of a PraxisAuril event; I attended some great sessions, bumped into former colleagues, and met some really interesting people. 

As well being a great opportunity to meet fellow KE professionals and learn from their experience, it was lovely to spend some time walking through the beautiful spa town. As I am sure is the case for many of you, getting to explore new places is part of the appeal of travelling to events like the PraxisAuril Conference (and makes up for the delayed trains endured on route). 

Therefore, as I started mapping out my year’s travel plans back in January 2020, a trip to Brighton for PraxisAuril 2020 was top of my list of trips to look forward to. 

Then everything changed. Instead of KE at the seaside, 2020 brought lockdown, working from home, and Zoom. 

I spent much of April trying to guess when we might get back to normal. I cancelled travel plans for a conference in May, but told myself that the event I was organising in November would be fine. 

In May I attended my first virtual conference. Stuck in my spare bedroom rather than in a large conference hall, it was very different to any event I had taken part in before. There was no long-journey or conference sandwiches, but there was no one to chat to either. I got some of what I would get from a “regular conference” experience, but it felt very different. 

By the time we reached December, I was fully adapted to the “new normal”. I had been to and organized multiple online events, and was getting quite used to the format. I had learnt from experience that to get the most out of online events you had to properly commit to them. You couldn’t just have the talk running in the background whilst you did some emails. Therefore, I was fully prepared to get the most out of the PraxisAuril KE Matters Digital Celebration 2020. 

The IP Access During a Crisis session had some great examples of how TTOs reacted at speed to the covid crisis. There were some interesting ideas about how we can learn from this and work at greater speed under “normal” conditions.

I listened to some great talks over the five days and was really impressed with how KE professionals from across the UK had adapted during the pandemic. The sessions on Place and Rebalancing on days 1 and 2 were particularly interesting. It was fascinating to hear how universities from across the country (from Aberdeen to Reading) had been engaging with the specific challenges faced by their region. A great strength of the UK higher education sector is its regional diversity. We have great universities across the length and breadth of the county, all interacting in different ways with their local populations and economies.  

As well as hearing how universities have helped mitigate the economics effects of the pandemic, I really enjoyed learning more about how university healthcare innovation has been rapidly put to use. The IP Access During a Crisis session had some great examples of how TTOs reacted at speed to the covid crisis. There were some interesting ideas about how we can learn from this and work at greater speed under “normal” conditions. 

I am really looking forward to the 2021 next PraxisAuril digital meeting in June. It will be another great opportunity to hear about the innovative KE work being conducted in challenging circumstances up and down the country.

 

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