At a EuroScience Open Forum meeting last month, scientists, policy-makers and the public discussed 'virtual mobility'. Could it replace the conventional geographical mobility of early-career researchers between labs? (See also R. Garwood Nature 510, 313; 2014.)
The group concluded that virtual mobility would work, but should be combined with short-term visits to other labs to allow face-to-face contact, which in our view is crucial for building trust and for working across cultures. However, more than half of scientists questioned in a European Commission survey (www.more-2.eu) considered that virtual mobility would make short-term visits unnecessary.
Meeting participants agreed that virtual mobility would provide equal access to and for researchers with physical disabilities, would help those on parental leave to maintain contact with their national and international networks, and would enable researchers in poorer regions to access well-resourced labs and to collaborate internationally.
We maintain that virtual mobility should be considered on the same footing as mobility between disciplines, sectors and geographical regions, and that it should be seen as a driver of equal opportunities. Peer review and evaluation structures need to acknowledge these new mobility concepts.