These monthly newsletters aim to keep all member networks updated with news describing how to get involved, as well as information of relevant events, services and new initiatives from the RSC Networks team. If you require further information about any of the items in the newsletter, or have any comments or ideas for content please contact the Networks team.

Committee members and representatives are encouraged to disseminate this information, as appropriate, to colleagues and other members. E-alert request forms can be downloaded from the Useful Forms and Documents page. Up to date lists of members can be obtained by emailing the Networks Team.

Launching An Online Seminar Series

This month in the Spotlight Dr Michael Cowley from the University of Edinburgh has put together a guide for members who want to set up an online seminar series. You can find Michael’s Information for Speakers attached to this article, and additional resources available from the Networks team below. You can contact Dr Cowley through the Main Group Seminar website or via

In normal circumstances, spring brings with it the beginning of the annual chemistry “conference circuit”, but this year, it has been clear for some time now, will be an exception. Chemists around the world are restricted from travelling, separated from their laboratories, and in many cases – for the moment – confined to their homes. One response to this situation has been a surge in online scientific seminars, which can enable scientific discourse to continue whilst we remain physically apart.

On the 2nd of April, I launched the Main Group Seminars online seminar series. At the time of writing we have held two seminars (2nd and 9th April) and engagement with the seminar series from the community has been excellent – altogether, 372 people viewed our first seminar, 386 the second, and we have 300 people registered to attend every seminar in the series! Audience members include chemists from around the UK (approx. 66%), Europe (particularly Germany, Spain, Italy, and France), the USA, Canada, India, China, Japan and Australia.

This guide provides some suggestions based on experience gained during the process of launching the main-group seminar series, and hopefully it will help if you are thinking about launching a similar programme.


Identify your aims

Before deciding anything (name, format, frequency, target audience, target size) think about why you want to run a seminar series online. What do you want to achieve? Which scientific community (or communities) do you want to bring together? Do you want to showcase early- career scientists, or promote your field to other chemists using leading scientists (or both)? Or do you want a small discussion-focused series that will bring together two related fields to generate new collaborations and ideas? Your goals will inform what you decide about implementation.

In my case, I wanted to arrange a series of seminars that would help sustain (a part of) the chemistry community through a period when planned conferences have been cancelled, departmental seminar series suspended, and even research groups cannot meet in person. The aim of the series is to bring together the main-group community, but also to showcase our scientific sub-discipline to chemists beyond it. Chemists who would not ordinarily take an interest in main-group chemistry could be converted, whilst their attention was easier to capture (because they are stuck indoors).


Work with an interest group, or at least involve others in your decision making

The main-group seminar series was supported from very early in its inception by the RSC main-group chemistry interest group. I was able to get agreement for a small amount of funding to support the seminar series.

Perhaps even more valuable than the financial support was the knowledge, contacts and support of the members of the interest group committee. The committee were involved in discussions on format and timing of the seminars (in our case, during ‘work hours’ in the working week). Most importantly, speaker selection decisions were together with the committee.

It was essential to have more than one voice in this process to get a scientifically, and otherwise, diverse set of speakers.


Move quickly

There is an advantage to be gained by launching your seminar series quickly – you have a captive (or at least self-isolated) audience at the moment, and relatively few competitors. Don’t wait until you have out a full programme together to launch your seminar series! We’re in a fluid situation at the moment, so it is best to act quickly and respond as the situation changes. You can launch your seminar series with only the first one or two events scheduled.

Remember, you don’t have to publish or publicise your full schedule until it’s finalised.


Publicise widely

Use channels like a website, the RSC events database, email lists, and social media to publicise your seminar series. In our case we know that about half of the registrants come via Twitter, about a third via the website (which they probably find using Twitter), and the remainder from email lists like the JISC inorganic chemistry mailing list.


Logistics and software

We use zoom to host our seminars ( The cost to hold seminars with a cap of 500 on the audience is approximately £150 a month. The service is reliable and provides excellent features surrounding registration and recording of viewers and user numbers etc. (so you can see who your audience is).

Please note: If you decide to use Zoom you will need to have the terms and conditions checked by the RSC legal team – contact the Networks team ( for more information.

You should also consider using the GoToWebinar account that the RSC has made available to member networks (for free) for hosting webinars for up to 500 people. Booking this service can be done at, and you should contact for more information.



Our format includes one 40 minute talk, and one 20 minute talk. We aim to have one established speaker and one early career (which can be anything from a recently independent academic through to a PhD student) in each seminar.

We have found that the shorter format for talks works better online – it’s harder for speakers to hold the audience’s attention from ‘inside’ a computer. Speakers also report their experience as being ‘flatter’ than normal without a physically present audience to respond to. Lastly, we are finding that with such large audiences – and perhaps a less intimidating atmosphere – there are substantial numbers of people wanting to ask questions after each talk, so the shorter talks serve to allow for that.


Consider making a recording available after the event

You should consider making a recording of your seminar available for a short period after the event. This will allow scientists in other time zones to access your seminar series, but just as importantly will also allow those who have other personal or professional commitments preventing them from attending ‘live’ to engage with your seminars.

In our experience speakers are relaxed about this and happy to allow it – and everyone so far has presented unpublished work.



Like so much of this guide, this is perhaps self-evident, but do do a dry-run with the speakers and the software and a ‘trial’ audience (I used my research group) before you hold your first event.


Resources and support from the Networks team

The Networks team are here to support you!

As mentioned above, there is a dedicated GoToWebinar account that is free to use for member networks. You can book your GoToWebinar here and find a user guide here. Please contact if you would like to know more about GoToWebinar or GoToMeeting.

You can promote your event to your members using the monthly e-alerts. Simply complete an e-alert request form and send it to

If you want some tips about getting started on social media to promote your seminars, you can watch our recent social media training webinars, or download the slides and FAQs from our Useful Forms and Documents page.
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Posted by Aurora Walshe on May 1, 2020 11:00 AM Europe/London

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