Virtual talks, charity fundraising and cross-university collaboration

Lecturer at the Aston University School of Optometry, Dr Samantha Strong, tells OT  about the plans for this years’ British Congress of Optometry and Vision Science

Zoom call

Can you tell OT about the BCOVS event this year, and what you aim to achieve with the first version of the event hosted online?

The British Congress of Optometry and Vision Science (BCOVS) is one of the national, annual conferences for people working in optometry and/or vision science in the UK.

One of my favourite things about BCOVS is that it provides an incredibly supportive environment for early career researchers (ECRs) to present and discuss their work. We are hoping to maintain this friendly environment through our virtual version of BCOVS, and are working hard to try to make it as useful and fun as possible. Sessions will be slightly shorter than usual with plenty of coffee breaks built in, and everything will be recorded so that attendees can catch up on any content they may miss due to caring or work responsibilities. We are also producing some easy-to-follow guides for presenters and attendees to help explain how things will run.

Along with the move online, what are some of the changes that will make BCOVS 2020 differ from previous years?

By moving BCOVS online, it naturally becomes more accessible to international speakers and attendees, which is a positive move, and we are hoping the online element may be more appealing to optometrists and clinicians who normally work in practice and may previously have been unable to attend.

We’re also attempting to re-imagine the networking opportunities that BCOVS is known for, by hosting a virtual pub quiz with some seriously amazing prizes. We’ve implemented some changes that we hope will become part of the future BCOVS ‘template.’ For example, we’ve introduced a ‘Highlighted ECR,’ an invited talk which will allow a nominated, early career researcher the opportunity to present their data in slightly more detail than is usually permitted in the 12–15 minutes assigned for talks.

We’ve also been able to make the entire conference free for all attendees and presenters. We thought this would be a great opportunity to give something back and so we’ve set up some ways of raising money in support of a UK-based vision charity. People can vote for the charity or charities they would like us to support, and we’ve created two ways in which people can donate – either by purchasing BCOVS merchandise, with 100% of the profits going towards the chosen fund, or directly through our fundraising page.

This year, BCOVS hosts have set up an online shop where conference attendees can buy ‘BCOVS 2020’ merchandise, with all of the profits going towards UK vision charities.

This year the committee includes representatives from across optometry schools. Could you tell us about this move and how it has shaped the event and planning process?

Optometry schools around the UK usually take it in turns to host BCOVS, and it was originally going to be held at Aston University this year. The decision to share the organisational role originated when Professor Leon Davies, head of Aston Optometry School, and I initially discussed moving the conference to a virtual platform. We thought it would be a great opportunity to allow input and positive contributions from a wider range of people, and because it’s a completely new venture for BCOVS, it seemed sensible to seek advice. The aim was to get a representative from every optometry school, but we’re still a few short so if you’re reading this and you don’t think your department has a representative yet, please get in touch.

So far the BCOVS committee has been one of the most productive, engaging, and motivated groups of people I’ve ever worked with. Every meeting produces great ideas and solutions to potential problems, and by speaking to people from different backgrounds and different institutions, everyone has slightly different experiences of technology and software. The contribution of every member of the committee so far has been utterly invaluable and I’m confident it will continue. If BCOVS 2020 is the success we hope it will be, it will be thanks to a genuine group effort.

Do you have an indication of themes or topics that are likely to be in the programme?

Our abstract submission is now open, and will remain open until 5pm (BST) on 31 July, so we don’t yet know for certain what themes will come up in the presentations. We have invited research, clinical, and pedagogical talks this year, so we are expecting a good mix.

Our keynote speakers have kindly accepted our invitations, so we are pleased to confirm that we will be treated to a talk on night-time driving and visibility from Professor Joanne Wood of Queensland University of Technology, and a talk on Charles-Bonnet Syndrome from Dr Dominic Ffytche from King’s College London.

What have been some of the challenges of planning for the event and what aspects are you looking forward to?

None of us have planned a virtual conference before, so the biggest challenge has probably been trying to anticipate everything we need to consider. For example, we’ve had to be creative about how to run poster sessions, we’ve needed to consider carefully which software to use for hosting, and we’ve needed to think about how we’ll be able to offer technical support on the day if required.

However, none of the potential issues are insurmountable, and the committee are confident that we can make this a success. We’ve also been very grateful to have monumental support from a range of organisations – Elsevier and Louis Stone are providing prizes for the virtual pub quiz, and the College of Optometrists is sponsoring our choice of online platform and offering prizes for the best ECR presentations. In particular, we’d like to thank Mike Bowen at the College for his dedication and commitment to supporting this venture.

In your view, how might future BCOVS events be shaped by the adaptations made this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I think this virtual BCOVS will be a great learning experience, potentially allowing future meetings to become a ‘hybrid’ of sorts. For example, the meeting could take place at a ‘host’ institution as normal, but with the option to attend virtually for those who may have difficulty travelling. This will allow BCOVS to become even more accessible and inclusive than it already is, which is something that I’m really keen to take forward when it is hosted at Aston University next year. We are also hoping that attendees who may not previously have participated in a BCOVS conference will become ‘hooked’ by the encouraging nature and interesting talks and opt to attend future events.

More information on the event is available at the BCOVS website:

Event registration is available at: