What is a scientific meeting like?

ISBERprogramAs I mentioned, I’m at the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER pronounced “is-burr”) meeting this week, so I’m going to talk about what it’s like to attend a scientific meeting.  Every scientific meeting is different.  They can be different lengths, but are usually between 2-5 days long.  The worst meetings are ones that start on Sunday of a three day weekend, like Memorial Day weekend.  Then you not only lose part of your weekend but also one of the very few work holidays. Fortunately, only a few meetings do that, and I don’t have to attend those anymore.  The meeting this week started on Tuesday night with pre-meeting workshops being held during the day on Tuesday.  The meeting will end on Saturday afternoon.

Meetings can be held anywhere, but mostly they are at hotels or convention centers.  That’s because you need a variety of different spaces for all of the activities that are taking place during the meeting, and a place for all the out-of-town guests to stay.  Before arriving, you will have paid for registration (anywhere for a few hundred to a thousand dollars, not including travel and hotel room), When you first get to the meeting space, you will sign in to pick up your name badge that lets you into all of the meeting spaces and a bag of information including the meeting program. You can take a look at the program for the meeting that I’m at this week here.

From there, you follow the schedule to participate in different activities that may include:

  • Sitting in lectures.  These talks can be of varying lengths.  The keynote or the plenary (another word for “keynote”) lectures are usually 30-60 minutes and held at the beginning of the meeting and presented by a luminary in the field.  There are also invited speakers that may talk for 20-30 minutes about something interesting they are currently working on or on the topic that they were invited to speak about.  In advance of the meeting, attendees can submit a short description of their interesting published or unpublished research (an abstract).  These are reviewed by the meeting planning committee, and some are selected to give short talks (usually 12-20 minutes).  After each talk, there is usually time for the audience to ask questions, but everything is scheduled really tightly so there is always someone monitoring time and cutting people off who talk to long (and scientists love to hear themselves talk so this happens all the time!)exhibits
  • postersPoster sessions.  For researchers who submitted abstracts but weren’t selected for a talk, they may be invited to present a poster in one of the numerous poster sessions.  These sessions are usually organized by topic and can be anywhere from a handful of posters to entire halls (see picture).  These poster sessions are a great opportunity for young researchers to present unpublished work.
  • Workshops.  Depending on the meeting, there may be workshops before the meeting starts to learn about a topic in more detail or to apply something to your current job. For example, it may be a workshop to learn how to do a new lab technique or a workshop to learn about the ethical considerations of doing a type of research.  Many times these cost extra to attend.
  • Extras. Extras may include field trips to local institutions to see what they are doing or mentoring workshops for young scientists.  They may include business meetings or subcommittee meetings. They may be panel discussions where you hear multiple people talk or interactive discussions where you join in the discussion.
  • Breaks!  Break cannot be stressed enough – because otherwise you become completely overwhelmed with information and from sitting for so long.  There are sometimes snacks, usually coffee, and in the evening there may even be cocktails. These are also the best opportunity to network with other researchers, learn about what they are working on, and maybe even set up a future collaboration.

At the ISBER meeting that I’m at this week, I’m on the Programming Committee, so I helped identify people to give talks and reviewed abstracts to decide who would be selected to give a short talk or a poster presentation.  At the meeting, I’m giving a short talk from an abstract that I submitted, I’m on a panel discussion about sustainability, I’m co-chairing a session (this is the session that I invited speakers to talk) where I introduce the speaker and moderate questions, and I’m attending a workshop.  This is in addition to attending the other talks, networking, visiting the exhibits, attending a pre-conference workshop and going to the gala awards dinner. It’s so fun and so tiring, but I’ll do my best to post some photos so you can see what this really looks like!  I’ll also be live tweeting the meeting from my twitter handle @cyc55 or you can follow the whole meeting with #ISBER2015

2 thoughts on “What is a scientific meeting like?

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