Big meeting, small meeting

Jun 28 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

As a scientist, I can wear a lot of hats depending on how I want to sell the work I am doing. Like most labs, I can self identify with my study subjects, the phenomenon that we work on, the tools we use or how we approach our questions. That leaves me a pretty broad spectrum of conferences to go to, some of which I have been attending for years and others which I have only recently started to go to. I have my "must attend" list, but I try and mix it up with the other conferences I attend to both expand my exposure and to see what some of the other meetings are like.

One thing that is rapidly becoming a law for me is "Over 4 parallel sessions = far less time spent attending talks". It doesn't seem to matter what the conference is or how many people I know there, I just can't get excited about a meeting with a shit-ton of parallel sessions. Rather than seeing it as a smorgasbord of tasty science, it feels like a firehouse of information that I would rather not put my face in front of. Maybe I'm just getting lazy in my old age, but running through the maze of rooms to switch between several of the 15 parallel sessions during an afternoon just doesn't do it for me these days. And how do the organizers know to pick the two talks I really want to see and schedule them simultaneously?

I go to big meetings sometimes for a change and it's a good way to catch up with people I haven't seen in a while, but I find that I spend less time in the talks and more time chatting with people during the day. I'm not sure why that is, but big meetings get to be less about the presentations and more about socializing.

8 responses so far

  • Anonymous says:

    Re your final point, I think the presentations at Big Meetings are often pitched at such a general level that if you're really au fait with the work you already know most of it. Smaller meetings = more focused, more (potentially new) details and thus more useful.Maybe!

  • Alyssa says:

    I find the bigger meetings cover so many topics, that only a few are interesting to me...and of course they're scheduled in parallel sessions. I'm a bigger fan of smaller conferences (say 2-3 parallel sessions).

  • Micro Dr. O says:

    The big meetings have become more social/networking opportunities the past couple of years, without much science talk except for poster sessions where I interact with people doing similar work (or at my own poster). I still go, because I feel the networking is very important, but they just have a different meaning for me now. I started attending smaller meetings the past couple of years, and I, too, feel like I've learned so much more when there are fewer, more focused, and much more detailed talks. I plan to make much more time for these smaller meetings in the future!!

  • Comrade PhysioProf says:

    I only go to large meetings if I am presenting an invited talk. It's at the small meetings where the important shit goes down.

  • tideliar says:

    Exactly why I loathe and love SfN each year...

  • GMP says:

    I second what CPP said; I think most senior faculty do the same. However, before you get tenure you have to maximize visibility, which means perpetual travel to a variety of meetings... But small meetings are the best. I love the single-session workshop format: that's where you really get to know people and can have some seriously inspiring conversations.

  • qaz says:

    I find that big and small meetings serve different purposes. Really big meetings (e.g. SFN) are large enough that I create my own mini-conference through networking and poster selection. (Personally, I love SFN, but it's definitely more about networking [often via posters]. I don't do talks at SFN, even when they are on my topic.) Really small meetings are usually pitched at a specific topic that interests me. What I really can't stand are those mid-range meetings that are too big to be specific and too small to have enough networking. But the best meetings are small meetings that are all discussion and workshop without presentations. If it's the right group, a small, workshop meeting can really make a difference.

  • Bashir says:

    One of my regular conferences that is usually on the smaller side recently expanded to 8 parallel sessions. 8! I don't know why, we'll see how it goes.

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