What do rock painting, Darwin’s finches, and a spatial cognitive challenge have in common? They were all themed ohyay rooms at the 32nd annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES), a global gathering of social and evolutionary scientists. Coren Apicella, a UPenn professor and co-producer of the conference, aimed to create a virtual venue where HBES could actively engage in their latest research. “It’s within this context that discoveries happen. Ohyay was a natural selection for us (no pun intended) because it is interactive, engaging, and affords the same flexibility as in-person conferences,” she said.
Throughout the week-long conference, called “Virtually Everywhere,” Coren and co-hosts Chris von Rueden and Nicole Barbaro fostered meaningful networking and relationship building between guests, many of whom had never met before. Veering off from traditional scientific conferences, they injected fun and humor into 35 different social rooms. In the “Family Room,” for example, guests popped into primate heads along a family tree and listened to “We Are Family” blasting in the background. Other popular rooms included “Natural Sea-lection,” “Inbread Room,” and “Darwin’s Garden Karaoke.” “It was fun to see strangers bond over the custom rooms and pick up ohyay so easily,” said Coren.
Beyond the fun and games, HBES was a highly attended and successful virtual event — with dozens of talks from researchers around the world, breakout sessions on a range of topics, and poster sessions. “So many audience members came back every day and it really felt as though the conference was meeting their research and career goals,” said Coren.
“When you host an event on ohyay, your guests aren’t just joining another virtual call. They’re entering a world that you’ve designed for them and they’re leaving with closer connections.”