By Mary Gabb ([email protected])

Attending national or international scientific conferences is a must for any researchers hoping to stay current in their research area and to network with colleagues. With ever-tightening budgets, however, you may need to be more selective about which conferences to attend. Don’t just flip a coin – think hard about what you want to get out of the event.

There are several factors to consider when evaluating a scientific conference. Of course, the essential one is content. Look at the list of topics covered not only in the scientific sessions but also the keynote addresses, and note the speakers and their affiliations. Have you heard of them? Are they from well-known institutions or organisations? You might also consider asking colleagues for their recommendations.

Another important learning opportunity at a conference is the workshops, typically offered in the one or two days preceding the conference. Are there any workshops of interest?

Will the meeting abstracts, presentation slides, or posters be available in an enduring material (eg, a CD-ROM) after the meeting?

Other considerations:

  • Scheduling conflicts: are your topics of interest running in parallel sessions, so that you may not be able to attend all of the sessions you want?
  • Is the conference held in an easily accessible city (eg, a hub city)?
  • Is the conference held in a venue accessible by public transport or by walking? Or will you have to rely on taxis or a conference shuttle?
  • Will there be time and opportunity for networking or for meeting some of the speakers?
  • If you are looking for a job, will there be some type of job fair?
  • Are travel grants available, for which you could apply?

In a perfect world, we’d like to see a formal “meetings critic” who attends conferences and provides a formal review not only of the conference organisation and management but also the individual speakers, similar to the book reviews by readers on Amazon.com.

Until then, it is up to each of us to vote with our feet and carefully consider how we spend our travel budgets.