Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Configuring an idea(l) conference

altI 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.

altI’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.

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