Every year, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) has an annual meeting that covers all topics in microbiology (I’ll talk about some of the science next week). It’s often in pretty good locations–this year, it was held in San Diego. But attendance has been dropping: a few years ago, over 12,000 people attended (it’s a big meeting), and this year, less than 9,000 people attended–which is one of the worst turnouts in memory (and San Diego is a nice place, although I still think Philly–yes, Philadelphia–was the best site they’ve ever chosen).
I’ve heard rumors that the format of the meeting is going to change, and that’s probably a good thing.
As I see it, the meeting has several problems–and it’s not that it’s ‘too big’ (that’s one of its strengths, as you run into colleagues you otherwise wouldn’t see). First, there’s no coherency to the program. Each section (subfield of study) sets its own symposium schedule without coordinating with other sections, leading to a lot of repetition and scheduling conflicts.
Second, I’ve always found that, due to the schedule, most of the talks I want to hear all occur at the same time. At this last meeting, my ‘top six’ talks all took place in the same hour (talks are for thirty minutes).
Third, the way posters are planned doesn’t work well. Typically, all of the posters in a given topic are scheduled at the same time. This means that many of your colleagues are standing next to their posters and can’t stop by yours (unless your poster sucks, but that’s a different problem). Poster topics should be spread out over the three days*, so that presenters will, at least, be able to see two-thirds of the posters in their session.
Hopefully, ASM will fix these problems.
*ASM goes for three and a half days. The half-day session on the last day is poorly attended, especially when east-coasters have to fly from the West Coast. Get rid of it.