Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unifiying conference

I am frustrated when I cannot go to an international conference once a year. But at the end of it I am worn out. Usually it lasts a week. This time it was two weeks in a row. I wonder how I am still able to think.

International scientific conference are at the heart of the research world, at least as important as scientific publications. Without conferences, you would not know who is working in your field. That is where you discover that paper authors are not only names but human beings. Dr. X who is contradicting your results is actually a very friendly guy an the best person to chat to or to go to restaurant with. Pr. Y whose intuitions are always stunningly genial can be a frightening freak, a reckless egocentric or ... a very seducing man/woman.

There are the personalities you discover and the ones you are eager to meet again. From conferences to conferences the bonds tighten (often despite the scientific disagreements) and from these irregular contacts emerges a community, a human community closely related to the abstract "scientific community".

But scientific conferences are not only a bunch of old chaps meeting once a year. This is a powerful way to exchange ideas and to be able to dig into what other researchers have discovered. If you have read someone's paper, you are able to ask him/her questions to clarify and discuss his/her work. If not, hearing his/her presentation may make you read the referring article.

In practice, a conference consists in a series of oral presentations of various lengths. Typically a researcher invited by the organisers will have an hour to expose his/her research in front of everybody, a researcher selected by the organisers will have 30 minutes, and the others will have only a poster presentation. I am at the poster level, so I stuff my results on a A0 that I hang in the dedicated place off the conference hall and during the so called "poster session" time I stand by, ready to explain my work to anybody interested. This also implies some advertising skill beforehand.
My poster for Unifying Concepts in Glass Physics 2011
Except your short time under the spotlight (your talk or your poster session), the conference consists mainly in listening to other's stories. In the past week I have listen to 8-10 talks every day, each representing at least months and more probably years of work condensed in 30 minutes or an hour. The previous week was more like 6 talks a day. Anyway, this is an enormous amount of information, a all you can eat buffet that I will slowly digest from now on.

I will probably post here in the future some reflexions or discussions that result from this conference.

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