Our CEO, Debbie Johnson, would like to address concerns in this open letter to the community about the costs of our eSymposia platform and efforts to provide free access to thousands of students, post-docs, early-career, UR and LMIC scientists.  

It has come to our attention that there are some concerns about the cost of our eSymposia on Twitter. I wanted to address this with all of you.

First, although the cost of putting on a virtual meeting is indeed less than convening an in-person conference, it is not free. We incur costs for broadcast production, which requires weeks of preparation to ensure a seamless broadcast, and software development of specialized interactive features that are unique to our meetings.  These interactive features enable networking opportunities and dynamic discussions among attendees that set the Keystone Symposia experience apart.  In addition, our registration rates are comparable to that of other similar high-quality conference organizations.  We are confident that any previous organizers and attendees would agree.  This is no ordinary virtual meeting.

As a non-profit organization, our motivation is not to make a profit, but to disseminate the latest scientific advances and insights at the lowest possible price to cover our costs.  Our registration prices are set at, or near, the expected break-even rate for the estimated number of attendees per meeting. Our meetings are kept small with Keystone Symposia’s tradition to optimize networking opportunities. This covers the cost of the digital platform that we use, and staff salaries, who have been working overtime without additional compensation to ensure that the organization makes it through this financially challenging time. Over the last year we have had to pay substantial cancellation costs for dozens of meetings that had to be cancelled due to COVID, resulting in a large financial loss and deficit for the year.  To ensure the future of the Keystone Symposia, we are all working our hardest to adapt to this new challenge while also striving to offer value to the scientific community that is expected of us.

In addition, to fulfill our mission of supporting the next generation of research leaders and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion through the scientific community, we offer a discounted student rate.  We further offer many opportunities for free access to students, post-docs and early career scientists, and to those from underrepresented communities and low-and-middle-income countries.  Altogether in 2020 we awarded 2271 scholarships for free attendance to our 12 eSymposia virtual meetings. This has substantially democratized our meetings, allowing us to reach more trainees and global audiences with the opportunities afforded by attending top tier scientific virtual meetings.

I hope this letter addresses the facts behind these concerns over the cost of the eSymposia.  We value your commitment to biomedical research and the important scientific communities that we serve.


Debbie Johnson, Ph.D.

President and Chief Executive Officer

Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology

Please don't hesitate to contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions.


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