DEAR LABBY: I am an assistant professor with limited funds for travel to meetings. Although I am a devoted ASCB member, I am torn between going to a large meeting like that hosted by ASCB and EMBO and a smaller one more directed toward my research area, like a Gordon Conference. I can only afford to do one of them. What should I be weighing in my decision?
— Traveler in Need of a Destination
DEAR Traveler: Thank you for staying connected to ASCB and its membership. Your question is an excellent one and asked every year by members who are early in their careers, and even pondered by those later in their careers. Labby’s career has benefited greatly from both types of meeting. The advantages that you have to weigh relate to what you hope to accomplish at the meeting. Are you at a stage in your research where you really need to focus on a specific question, or would your research (or teaching) benefit from the broader perspective that might be gained at a large meeting?
As large meetings will have symposia in your research area, both types of meetings provide ample opportunities to connect with those working in your area. The smaller meetings will have you rubbing shoulders with the prominent names who are attending, as they will likely join the mealtimes and the coffee hours. The larger meetings will have you rubbing shoulders with some of these same folks as well, but you would have to make more of an effort to interact with them.
The larger meetings provide a greater context for the work being done in several interconnected areas, and the ideas generated across those areas often lead to your having new approaches to your own specific research and teaching. Similarly, larger meetings provide the benefit that you may meet others working on topics indirectly related to your area, which may facilitate collaborative projects.
The smaller meetings allow your path to intersect with that of nearly everyone who participates, and that is not true of the larger meetings. But there are more opportunities for more intersections at the larger meetings simply because of the larger number of scientists and educators who attend.
Finally, don’t forget that a large meeting like the ASCB|EMBO Meeting will provide a wealth of nonscientific sessions that focus on topics like careers, education, and communication. Consider whether you will benefit from such sessions.
Each type of meeting has so many positives that you should decide what works better for your budget. In addition, societies like ASCB offer travel monies that can be requested to assist your attendance. If you receive one of these awards, you get the best of both worlds as you can then afford to go to both meetings and taking home new ideas, new personal connections, and new collaborations that really do last a lifetime and a full career. Enjoy both!