I was talking with friends the other night about what makes a good research conference. There was a time when it was a big conference, filled with important people and companies all showing off their latest findings and innovations. It was a distant city, a nice hotel, good dinners, and visits by the corporate brass.
It does seem like a tender age.
These days, I really enjoy a smaller gathering, one where there’s a singe track of presentations, a limited audience, immersion in a topic, close discussions of creative ideas, promises to follow up on collaborative projects. It’s more of a retreat, things to see and discover together, shared meals, an excursion or two.
The big conferences have their place, but I really don’t learn as much or get time to talk about ideas with others.
I’m headed up to Ireland for a few days for such an event, ‘looking forward to the time away (even though I have to finish a grant application during the evenings). The organizers have a good sense of how to assemble a group: they get a good mix of young and older investigators, people actually doing work, and mix the theoretical/technical sorts with the practicing/clinical ones. There are a few repeat members, a few industry folks, a core focus for everyone to put their heads around.
It reminds me of the times running a research group, a lot of the same considerations lead to a lot of the same solutions. You want to gather together a group of smart folks with different perspectives who can work together around a common cause. Flatten the hierarchy, celebrate successes at every level, and keep the networks humming.
When it works, it’s really one of life’s delights.