Hello there bloggies! Welcome to this week’s Trainee Tuesday!

Last week, I went to a small conference of maybe 100 or so attendees. For the most part, I typically go to larger national or international conferences. As a grad student and now a postdoc, I am relatively limited in the number of meetings I can attend. That means that I (and other trainees) have to selectively pick and choose which meetings can participate.

Here are some of the differences between the bigger and smaller research meetings.


One of the main goals of going to research conferences is to meet and interact with different scientists from across the world. No matter the size of the conference, you will the opportunity to discuss the latest in science and research with experts. However, the types of networking and interactions can be somewhat different.

At the bigger conferences, there is simply a larger volume of investigators available to talk to and meet. Almost everyone in your field who is able to attend the meeting will be there and looking to network. Not only that, but individuals who work in tangentially related fields or even in completely disparate fields will be there. You will have the chance to discuss science with people you would never have the opportunity to meet or work with in your own field.

However, the larger numbers of people means that the interactions can be relatively quick and rushed. There is just so much going on at these large meetings! Although the number of scientists is way less at some of the smaller meetings, the quality of the interactions is usually far superior. There is more 1-on-1 time with the other attendees and really forming strong connections. These connections can be the basis of new collaborations, future jobs, and even friendships with your colleagues.

Science Programming

The backbone of any research conference is the actual science and research being presented at the meeting. Obviously, there is simply more material at the larger conferences. The diversity and amount of science at a single location is unreal! These meetings can provide a fantastic survey of a collection of fields. Big announcements of findings, project/product launchings, and policies are usually made at these meetings. However, as these larger conferences are trying to appeal to a wide range of participants, the talks and poster programming can be jam-packed. That means the presentations can be a bit superficial and only report published findings.

Smaller meetings can in no way compete with the sheer amount of science at the larger meetings. But, these smaller meetings can provide a venue for more specialized, in-depth discussions of the research. As these smaller meetings have a more community feel to them, scientists are more willing to present unpublished, controversial topics. Plus, there are more opportunities to directly participate in these discussions.

Generally, the main difference between the larger and smaller conferences is the degree of detail and specificity to your field and research. Larger meetings will have a wide-range of scientific programming and activities that apply to a wide range of trainees and investigators. The science, programming, and investigators will be more directly tailored to your work and interests.

Both small and large meetings offer fantastic opportunities for trainees to meet different investigators, learn about science, develop skills, and enjoy themselves. So which sort of meetings should trainees attend? Honestly, it depends on the situation. Are you new to a field or want to survey the landscape of research? A larger meeting may be in the cards for you this year. Are you looking to focus on a small sliver of your field? Then, maybe it is best to go to a smaller meeting. I will say that I think it is best to mix up the types of meetings you attend. That way you give yourself the most opportunities to experience new people and new science.

Thank you for stopping by Trainee Tuesday! Do you prefer smaller or larger meetings? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.

See you all tomorrow!

-Dr. F