The Continuing Importance of Conferences in a Connected World

Jason Stajich

Jason Stajich writes of his personal history and experience at the Fungal Genetics Conference in Asilomar, California in this blog on The Hyphal Tip, part of the Fungal Genomes website. His main theme is to describe his feelings about the importance of holding large conferences in specific subject areas, why it is important that a thousand scientists travel thousands of miles to meet in one place.

These meetings can be held in pleasant parts of the world but beauty is but one attraction and probably the least important - these are not pleasure trips. They are opportunities for informal meetings and discussions where colleagues working in similar research areas that might already know each other from close collaboration have time to expand on what are normally quite brief one-to-one phone calls, occasionally conference calls.

As important or possibly more important are meetings between researchers who would not normally meet or might never meet if their type of research is far removed from each other - multidisciplinary research is still quite rare but has never been more useful. A clinical researcher might attend such a meeting in order to listen to the latest research on a particular pathogenic fungus in the hope of contacting a fungal research group who might be able to help identify genes for pathogenicity for example. They might then find that the fungal group has been working on genes closely allied to pathogenicity or infection but which has never had access to the sort of clinical data that a clinical collaborator might give them - indeed access to clinical resources could take their research in an entirely different direction.

In some clinical conferences (a big clinical conference attracts 25 000 delegates) there are now opportunities for patients to get involved and put their point of view across to research clinicians. This can provide clinicians and researchers with new perspectives on what useful research can be and allows them to make important contacts with interested patient advocates.

In a world where rapid communication has become easier than at any other time in our history via use of the internet there remains a value unique to scientific conferences that we still treasure.