In Praise of Small Conferences

Post provided by NATALIE COOPER

Conferences come in many shapes and sizes, from mega-conferences like the Ecological Society of America (ESA) or Evolution with up to 5000 attendees, to small BES Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings with fewer than 100 attendees. There are pros and cons to both kinds of conference, but I’d like to take this opportunity to focus on small meetings*. Here are five reasons why I think they’re great, and why they’re particularly good for Early Career Researchers.

1. Networking is Much Easier

At a big conference networking can be really hard. Not only do you have to find the people you want to talk to, but you also have to compete with all the other people who want to talk to them! This is even worse if you’re also nervous about approaching them.

Networking more generally (i.e. without specific targets in mind), or just finding people to hang out with, can also be harder. Large meetings tend to cause groups to close ranks**. The sheer numbers of people around can make it really intimidating (there are some tips for networking at bigger meetings here). Continue reading

Generating New Ideas in a Conference Setting

Post provided by David Warton

This guy had his eureka moment in the bath (although I have had more success in the shower). ©Dun.can

This guy had his eureka moment in the bath (although I have had more success in the shower). ©Dun.can

A few leading reasons for going to a conference are: to present your work and get feedback on it, to find out what others are doing, to meet collaborators and to network. But a conference can also be a great setting for generating completely new ideas. I find that conferences are one of my most likely places for a “eureka moment”.

Surrounded by researchers working on a range of different problems in interesting and often original ways, I’m encouraged to think about things from a different angle. Idea generation is perhaps one of the main benefits of going to a conference – but is the typical conference format is the best way to facilitate that? Or does it focus too much on giving researchers a platform to report on previous research ideas? Continue reading