Just about all scientists happily attend at least one science meeting every year. Week-long annual gatherings are organized by national science societies. Since their membership can be large (i.e., many thousands of scientists), these gatherings are a big circus of activities. The annual USA meeting organized by the Society for Neuroscience attracted an attendance of over 30,000 in 2013 . Both graduate students, Postdocs, professional researchers from academia and industry, and, Nobel Laureates are found among the attendees. Very general science organizations, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science , also hold large annual gatherings.
Yet other types of science meetings have a somewhat different and distinctive character. International science congresses for various disciplines are held every 2-4 years [e.g., 3,4]. Unlike the national gatherings taking place each year around the world, most international meetings are conducted in English. For attendees, they offer both a chance to meet and talk to scientists from other countries, and to visit different parts of the world; scientific research truly is a very global endeavor. Various topical research meetings and technical workshops typically are organized every few years for researchers working in a discrete area of science; often they are centered on a certain subject, specimen, or methodology, and so attract around 25-200 attendees. These more intimate gatherings are very intense, and are invaluable for having access to unpublished new research findings; I found them to be particularly valuable for witnessing open debates between several scientists, and for getting to personally know colleagues who are actively researching in the same or similar areas. Publication meetings are organized at irregular intervals for the purpose of summarizing research advances and controversies in some specialized area, and then publishing a book with edited chapters composed by the invited presenters; typical attendance is similar to that of the topical research meetings.
Where are science meetings held?
The answer to this question depends upon how many persons will attend, where are there many scientists residing nearby, what rates are available from hotels or other accommodations, and what are the air transportation facilities. Meeting management companies will do all of the necessary organizational work for the science societies. Some larger societies are trapped by their very size, and so can meet only at the same very large convention centers every year. Other societies meet at a different city each year, which enables attendees to visit many different locales. Regional groups commonly meet at some central location. Smaller meetings can be held at universities during the summertime, which enables much lower costs for lodging and conference rooms. International meetings usually move around the world; this enables attendees to have a wonderful combination of science and vacation pleasures. Over the years, I have participated in international gatherings at such locations as Kyoto, Hyogo (SPring-8), and Sapporo (Japan), Grenoble and Paris (France), London and Oxford (U.K.), Caxambú and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Toronto and Montreal, Canada, Davos (Switzerland), Brno (Czech Republic), and, Cancun (Mexico). Of course, some international congresses also take place in the USA!
Who pays for these science meetings?
For participation in the yearly national meetings, each attendee pays a registration fee (e.g., at least several hundred dollars) in addition to their annual dues for membership in that science society. In addition, attendees must pay for their travel and hotels. All these costs do add up, and have become substantial in modern times, particularly due to the annual rises in travel and registration costs. Some meetings are able to offer free registration and special rates for accommodations of graduate students and Postdocs. Many faculty scientists stop attending science meetings unless they are invited to give a presentation, in which case they receive free registration and/or reimbursement for their expenses; the commonly stated rather phony reason for not attending without an invitation is that, “I do not have any extra travel money in my grant(s)!”. I myself am unusual in this regard, since I have paid my own way to attend some meetings; I feel that I was simply investing in my own research efforts and career.
What is it that attracts so many scientists to attend science meetings?
In general, annual science meetings typically feature: (1) invited special oral presentations by research scientists who are famous leaders in their area of study, (2) contributed brief oral or poster presentations given by members of the society at many different topical sessions , (3) technical workshops about research instrumentation and experimental methodology, (4) roundtable discussion sessions where several well-known scientists have an interchange with each other and the audience about some research controversy or new feature of interest, (5) social events, such as a meeting opener and a banquet, (6) a commercial exhibition by manufacturers of research instruments and supplies, (7) evening cocktail parties with unlimited free alcohol are sponsored by some of the larger commercial concerns and are open to all meeting attendees (i.e., as potential customers), and, (8) opportunities to actually meet and talk with very famous researchers, competitors in your field, and graduate students seeking a suitable postdoctoral position. Thus, these gatherings are enjoyable, educational, interesting, important, and sometimes inspiring.
All of the above official activities are valuable, but sometimes can be considered as being secondary to a variety of certain unofficial meeting activities, including: (1) greeting old friends, such as former classmates and science teachers, (2) conversing with many other research scientists, (3) restaurant dinners sponsored by department chairs or laboratory heads, (4) meeting others who work on the same research subject as the attendee, and discussing common issues or technical problems, (5) informal social activities, and (6) a chance to see a new geographical location. Clearly, there always is a lot to do at science meetings, and they constitute a major career enjoyment for many scientists (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What is the Fun of being a Scientist?”).
Although I have met only one or 2 scientists in my life who dislike going to science meetings, most do so enthusiastically. The success of annual meetings such as that of the giant Society for Neuroscience is paradoxically lessened by the sheer giant number of attendees; this makes it simply impossible to find certain persons you are eager to talk to, and all the session rooms are utterly packed with other participants. I thus developed a large preference for the smaller and more personal topical meetings, because: (1) they are much more intense, (2) you can find and converse with everyone else, even Nobel Laureates, (3) the very latest research results in your particular area of interest are presented and discussed, and, (4) everyone participating has a direct or indirect interest in the same research subject(s).
Are there any science meetings for non-scientists?
The answer to this question is a loud “yes!”. All the larger national and international science meetings have one or more free sessions designed to inform the public about their area(s) of science and recent advances in research. These special sessions last for 1-3 hours and can be targeted to children, teachers, media reporters, or the general public. They often feature dramatic videos showing amazing findings and research endeavors, along with explanations for non-scientists about what is being shown. Usually there is time reserved for questions from the audience.
Readers are urged to check on the internet to find out which science meetings will be held nearby, and what free public sessions are scheduled. I assure all readers that they will be welcomed to participate in these special public sessions designed for non-scientists.
I hope this introductory article explains to all readers the important usefulness of professional meetings for scientists. Please let me know if you have any questions about science meetings via the Comments button below.
 Society for Neuroscience, 2013. Neuroscience 2013 attendees share science from around the globe. Available on the internet at: http://www.sfn.org/news-and-calendar/news-and-calendar/news/annual-meeting-spotlight/neuroscience-2013-spotlight/neuroscience-2013-attendees-share-science-from-around-the-globe .
 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2014. 2015 annual meeting. Available on the internet at: http://www.aaas.org/AM2013 .
 Czechoslovak Microscopy Society, and, International Federation of Societies for Microscopy, 2014. 18th International Microscopy Congress, 2014, Prague, Czech Republic.Available on the internet at: http://www.imc2014.com/ .
 XII International Conference on Nanostructured Materials, Moscow, Russia, 2014. NANO 2014. Available on the internet at: http://www.nano2014.org/ .
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