The Enduring Value of Conferences

It’s worth reflecting on the value events like OFC continue to provide.

Michal Lipson

This month, the OFC Conference in San Diego, CA, USA, will bring together thousands of researchers, engineers, students and others in the world’s largest annual meeting for optical-communications and -networking professionals. As OFC 2023 prepares for launch, it’s worth looking back a few years and considering how much has changed for a meeting like this one—and how much value such events continue to provide.

Cast your mind back, for example, to early March 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak had not yet officially been declared a pandemic—but companies, universities and exhibitors nonetheless were suddenly and dramatically cutting back on staff travel as the disease advanced worldwide. OFC’s organizers and staff had to move quickly to adapt, relying partly on online-meeting tools that have become commonplace but were then still relatively unfamiliar.

The success of the resulting conference, rethought on the fly, was a significant accomplishment. Despite the huge initial disruptions brought on by the coronavirus, more than 90% of the originally planned sessions for OFC 2020 took place, either in-person or virtually—enabled, interestingly, by the same optical-communications technologies that OFC is all about. The lessons learned in that first experience drove the conference forward into new formats in subsequent years, including an all-virtual OFC in 2021 and a return to a hybrid in-person/virtual event in 2022. OFC 2023 will once again adopt a hybrid conference format, including both in-person and virtual presentations.

What strikes me in all of this is how strong this meeting has stayed despite the pandemic’s disruptions—and how vital such a forum remains for connecting industry and academic research at this time in our community’s history. In my own area of silicon photonics, for example, the pace of change accelerates daily, with technologies seemingly coming straight from the lab to products in only a few short years. In such an environment, there is no substitute for the kind of strong academic–industry interaction and the exchange of new ideas that an event like OFC can bring.

This year, OFC will also afford opportunities to honor and support the accomplishments of women in the field, as the conference coincides with International Women’s Day (8 March)—a global event marking the social, economic, cultural and political contributions of women. At OFC, Optica will celebrate the day with a special breakfast and panel discussion, as well as talks and an afternoon reception in the Suzanne R. Nagel Lounge. I hope you’ll seek out these events at the meeting—and also take the opportunity to recognize a woman scientist, engineer or mentor who has been important in your own life or career, by posting a tribute at It’s a great way to celebrate the many women who are moving our field forward.

I’ll see you at OFC!

Michal Lipson,
Optica President

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Publish Date: 01 March 2023

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