Tough life and hard choices for the Technical Program Committees

Recent BEMS meetings, and from now on always BEMS & EBEA meetings called BioEM, take place all over the world in many distant locations – for example 2010 BEMS was in Seoul, South Korea, 2012 BEMS was in Brisbane, Australia, the BioEM2014 will take place in Cape Town, South Africa.

As the former co-Chair of the BioEM2009 (with Guglielmo D’Inzeo) and BEMS2010 (with Nam Kim) and member of TPC for numerous meetings, I would like to share few impressions about the meetings that are not necessarily related to the ongoing BioEM2013. I also just retired from the Board of Directors after 7 years of service to the BEMS.

It does not matter what location societies select for the meeting, there will always be scientists who will need to make long and expensive trek to reach the meeting site. Coming to the meeting they expect to learn something new, to present own research, whether as oral or poster presentation or just in informal discussions, and to meet with colleagues and peers for both, scientific debates and socializing.

The Technical Program Committee, and especially co-Chairs, might make these expectations to be fulfilled or not. That is why the work-load of TPC is both, heavy and with great responsibility.

The primary reason for a scientist to come to the meeting is, by far, the possibility to present own research in front of the peers. Scientists submit abstracts that are reviewed by the TPC and accepted or rejected.

Every now and then we can hear comment that the abstracts are peer-reviewed. This is to give an impression of their quality. It is an inaccurate statement and peer-review process of meeting abstracts should not be compared with the peer-review performed by scientific journals. The abstracts are reviewed but it is mostly to determine that they conform to the conference rules. It is extremely rare that an abstract would be rejected. It is difficult to conclude, based on the short abstract, whether it is a good and novel science or not. Therefore it is better to accept all abstracts. Another problematic issue of this review is that often friends and collaborators review each other abstracts.

Rarely anyone has courage to indicate that the abstracts might be not worthy presentation. It seems that sometimes friendships interfere with science.

There is also another dimension to this rare-rejection-issue. Rejecting abstracts could lead to lower participation in the meeting and this is needed for the meeting’s finances to break even. Meetings are not to make profit but also not to make financial losses to the societies.

Another situation where friendships interfere with science is assignment of abstracts to be presented orally or as a poster. The more desired are oral presentations. However, I think that posters are much better format to present own research and scientists should stop under appreciation of poster presentations.

Oral presentation usually lasts only 10 minutes with 5 minutes for questions. The presented data just flashes through the screen. Often, to show all data the presenters need too many slides to fit them comfortably in 10 minutes talk. Finally, question time is short and allows for just 2-3 questions.

On the other hand, poster has enough space to fit all data comfortably. Poster viewers have ample amount of time to view them and analyze. Posters hang for two days and viewers can return to them when needed. Finally, during poster session there is 1.5 hours of time to ask as many questions as needed.

Therefore, poster presentations allow more data to be presented in more relaxed situation. Viva Posters!

The biggest responsibility of TPC is the selection of topics and plenary speakers for plenary sessions, workshop sessions and tutorial sessions. Unfortunately, but luckily seldom, friendships interfere with selection of plenary speakers. In such cases not the most suitable experts are selected to present but experts being on friendly relations with TPC. This should be avoided at any cost and the co-Chairs of the TPC should take this responsibility very seriously. Friendships are very important but they should not interfere with the quality of science.

If TPC gets successfully through all these hurdles, the meeting will be both enjoyable and educational.

TPC should also remember that all scientists pay lots of money to come to the meeting and they have the right to expect a good quality in exchange for their money and a good science above all. With shrinking funding the quality of the meetings should be good enough to make scientists to wish to make “sacrifices” and spend money on travel to BioEM. For the most of them, the exotic location will not be enough to come again and again…



1 thought on “Tough life and hard choices for the Technical Program Committees

  1. Pingback: Commentary on the BioEm conference, Thessaloniki, Greece by Dariusz Leszczynski | EMFacts Consultancy

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