The cost of scientific meetings

A tweet from GenomeBoy (@MishaAngrist) caught my eye in relation to the financial cost of scientific meetings.

Attending conferences and workshops is a central part of any active research scientist’s life. I believe this is still the case in this time of Skype, email, webinars etc. You just can’t beat face-to-face contact and seeing a diverse range talks and posters that you can at just about any meeting. The problem is often the cost. Now, I accept that these are expensive affairs to put on but there are just so many to choose from it is now impossible to attend the ones I would like. There are also other costs – scroll down for one example below.

A key example of the problem of cost is the Spring British Society for Cell Biology meeting. I’d love to go every year. This engenders the sort of community that the President of the American Society for Cell Biology, Ron Vale, talked about in their latest newsletter (PDF of his piece here). The trouble is that it is £495 to register and I know it will cost me the best part of £100 to travel. That gets me to a good meeting but not one that reflects my own area of research very well (this year at least). So instead I am going to go to a specialist cilia meeting in London (Cilia 2012) as this covers a new research area for our lab. I’m also going to the British Biophysical Society in Durham as they have kindly invited me to speak (but I still have to pay, albeit at a reduced rate….and have you seen the train fares for Bristol to Durham!!).

So the real problem is where to get the money from. This part of my grants often seems to get cut (maybe I don’t justify it well enough) but this is the only real source of this funding. There are plenty of travel grants for graduate students and postdocs but not many for us impoverished professors! More grants, that is obviously the solution.

The REAL cost of scientific meetings.

There is of course a second issue – one reason I dislike long meetings is time away from the family. This is not too much of a problem as I have a very considerate wife who enables me to go to a good set of meetings every year. For others I know this is a major problem. The worst case for me is the Gordon conference on Molecular Membrane Biology. Always at least a week away, always expensive, and starts around the time of my son’s birthday. triple whammy. Hope to go next year though. It is without doubt the most intensive meeting I have been to in my field. I can see why people go back year after year.

The solution?

One way in which both of the above issues have been solved for me is the one-day meeting. Dan Cutler organizes an absolutely amazing one-day membrane traffic meeting in London in December every year. It attracts hundreds and is genuinely a must-go every year. Harry Mellor organizes a similar meeting on Actin in Bristol each December as well. Even though this is more tangential to my work, I go because it is local, cheap, and at the Watershed which has to be one of the best meeting venues I have ever used.

Both meetings cost around £30 per person plus travel of course but also mean only one day “away”. They give me the chance to catch up with people I already know and meet the new faces in UK cell biology. An important point is that BSCB sponsor both of these meetings and for that I am sure we are al very appreciative!

Of course I’ll still go to the “big” meetings. I go to ASCB every few years and will also go to BSCB’s Spring meeting as often as I can. Though, then there meetings from the GRC, Keystone, EMBO, ESF, FEBS, DGZ, Biochem Soc, BBS, Genetics Soc, the Royal Microscopical Society……..etc etc etc