Some will say that’s good news, some will say it’s a shame and most people don’t actually care. Be it as it may, today we’re dissecting a scientific congress.
Let’s start with the basics. The main event at congresses is what you’d expect: researchers exposing their study results—giving just enough details for peer not to reproduce them. They are allowed 15-20 minutes and answer a couple of questions from the attendees at the end.That’s 5 hours a day times several parallel sessions times 3-5 days. In the greatest congresses, there are so many sessions that some are way out of your field. Not that it matters since you’re busy with your schedule to see some specific talks. There’s also an opening speech, the closing remarks and some guest speakers now and then.
Just between us, being a scientist and a good speaker is not the default package, thus sometimes it’s hard to attend a conceptually interesting presentation. On the other hand, some questions are not as much born from curiosity as from nastiness.
Apart from lunch, there’s a coffee-break in the morning and in the afternoon. These are standing breaks in the expositors room where companies and posters are (because those who aren’t given a platform presentation have to settle for showing their results on a poster). Lunch can be in a dining room—if the venue is a hotel—or standing. Last autumn I even attended a congress where we were given free time to find our own food.
Finally, the social programme includes the reception, sightseeing tours, the gala dinner… some of them at an additional cost. In these events, the most respectable scientist goes wild until late. However, next morning at 9 p.m. they go back to proper science talks.
The parties after dinners and the international participants are the closest you get to Eurovision. Actually, the closer a congress has got to Eurovision—that I know—was something I couldn’t see. I was too busy doing it.