Scientific Conferences – Redundant or Still Relevant?

Having just completed both helping organize and being part of a successful conference – the International Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conference at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, it made me wonder what the function of conferences are in the electronic age. A few decades ago, before the Internet, PubMed and now Online journal publication, they were the place where one would first present one’s ‘hot off the press’ data to researchers in one’s field of scientific interest. Now, it is almost certain that data will be in press or published before it is presented at a conference, and indeed with the speed potential ‘rivals’ are able to publish data now, it becomes almost a risk to describe novel data or findings at a conference before it is in press at best. Conferences also used to be a place to network and meet up with old or potential collaborators. But, with the advent of email and even perhaps Twitter and Facebook, one can network possibly even more effectively electronically when planning new collaborative ventures or to keep contact once project is ended. So what is the point of either presenting at a conference or attending a conference? My answers would be that it is still great to see other scientists face to face, even if it is from a purely social perspective, it allows younger scientists to ‘put a name to a face’ of academics whose work they have read and appreciate, or have followed their comments and thoughts in blogs and forums like Twitter, and in my own experience preparing a talk for a conference is always the first step in getting the first draft of either the data paper or theoretical paper together in a coherent way. Apart from that, I guess it is a great way to get away from one’s daily work routines, whether they are in the lab or in front of the computer, and get out there and see the world, see your old friends or even people you have ‘sparred with’ academically, and enjoy the ‘feeling’ that science is an alive and dynamic process. Part of me wonders if they will become redundant in the future if the electronic era continues in the way it has in the last few decades, but then I attend a conference and think, wow, this is why I do science, even if it is difficult to pin down why I get this positive ‘feeling’ both during and after a good conference I have attended. Maybe there’s a study for someone to do in that!

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About Alan (Zig) St Clair Gibson

Professor Alan (Zig) St Clair Gibson MBChB PhD MD - Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Health and Science, , University of Essex, United Kingdom View all posts by Alan (Zig) St Clair Gibson

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