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What kind of Congress....?

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  • What kind of Congress....?

    ISB President's Message:
    >From the September 1996 Newsletter


    My question for this quarter is: What kind of ISB Congress would you most
    like to attend?

    Your views on this topic are important to the ISB Council as they look to
    the future in order to plan the meetings of our Society over the next
    decade. As I am sure you know, the ISB holds a Congress every two years.
    The XIV Congress was in Paris in 1993, and the XV Congress in Jyvaskyla,
    Finland in 1995. The XVI Congress will be held in Tokyo in August of 1997
    and, at the recent ISB Council meeting, the 1999 Congress was awarded to
    Calgary, Canada. There is always a great deal of debate over conference
    formats and organization so let me review some of the frequently asked
    about Scientific meetings:

    1. Are there too many meetings?
    It is now entirely possible to do more traveling to meetings that research!
    There seems to be a proliferation of scientific meetings large and small
    all over the world. Are we actually gaining new information from all of
    these meetings or are we just engaging in intellectual play and scientific
    tourism? (There is an old saying that an expert is someone who travels a
    long way bearing slides.)

    2. Why do meetings cost so much?
    The current registration fee for a typical 3-5 day international meeting is
    in the region of $US500. This cost does not include the expense of getting
    to the meeting site or the cost of accommodation. Where will this price
    escalation end?

    3. How can students afford to go to meetings?
    The major losers at the expensive meetings are students who cannot afford
    to go and cannot persuade their advisors to pay for them to go. Yet
    meetings are the principal places where a student can make her or his case
    for future employment since the publication process is so slow. Some
    meetings have grants to bring the student fee down to bargain basement
    prices. Why isn't this done more often?

    4. Why are there so many parallel session at meetings?
    Getting the most out of a large meeting requires weeks of planning -
    plotting strategies for moving from room to room, deciding which
    interesting paper you want to see least urgently (since often everything
    looks good!). Inevitably one leaves with a feeling of having been there,
    yet having missed something very important.

    5. Why are meetings getting larger and larger?
    I have been to three day meetings where I have not been able to meet with
    colleagues that I really wanted to talk to. I may have seen then from a
    distance, or exchanged a quick word as we rushed to different parallel
    sessions. How big is too big? What is the optimal size? Should each
    Congress try to cover every topic in a given field or are specialty
    meetings better?

    6. Why are posters considered second rate?
    Many people know the secret that posters are actually a much more effective
    way to engage your colleagues in discussion than podium presentations
    (discussion time is unlimited, there is no place for grandstanding or self
    aggrandizing questions, real exchange of information can occur). Yet
    posters are often considered the consolation prize compared to podium
    presentations at major meetings. Some meetings, on the other hand, are ALL
    posters. Is that a format that works?

    7. Would electronic "meetings" be as effective?
    Why can't we all stay home and just agree to an exchange of information
    over a set couple of days on the Internet? There is an endless number of
    electronic possibilities but would the loss of the personal element of
    interaction significantly detract from the experience?

    8. Why aren't there more Symposia at Conferences?
    Some conference goers would prefer to hear long talks from established
    experts in the field, or discussion sessions by experts with opposing views
    - rather than hearing short communications from up and coming authors.
    What should be the balance between Symposia and free communications?

    9. Why is the standard of slides so bad?
    Easily accessible presentation graphics programs have certainly
    revolutionized the quality of the average slide presentation. However, one
    still hears many presenters apologize for the quality of a slide, or more
    annoyingly, for the quantity of information on a slide. Former ISB
    President Dick Nelson once made a slide of himself at the front row of a
    lecture hall with a pair of high powered binoculars. Unfortunately, the
    slide was only partly in jest! For some presenters, binoculars should be
    standard issue. Perhaps we should rate presenters immediately after the
    talk and send them immediate feedback!

    10. Why are meetings always in North America?
    Many of the major International meetings seem to revisit North America very
    frequently. Why don't major societies attempt to hold meetings in
    countries where the scientific discipline is just developing so that it
    might give a boost to that country's efforts?

    If it is not obvious by now, I confess that I have raised many questions
    and answered none! However, many of the above issues are critical to your
    enjoyment and learning at major meetings such as the ISB Congress and the
    ISB Council would be delighted to hear from members regarding their views
    on the ideal meeting. Any particularly creative approaches to Scientific
    Meetings that you are aware of and would like to share would also be
    welcome. Send EMail responses to me at the usual address -

    Best wishes

    Peter R. Cavanagh
    ISB President

    Peter Cavanagh
    Center for Locomotion Studies
    Penn State University
    University Park
    PA 16802 USA
    Voice +1 814 865 1972
    FAX +1 814 863 4755
    Email PRC@PSU.EDU