EDITORIAL

Designing Scientific Meetings

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Science  15 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6121, pp. 737
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236324

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Summary

This issue of Science contains announcements for more than 100 different Gordon Research Conferences, on topics that range from atomic physics to developmental biology. The brainchild of Neil Gordon of Johns Hopkins University, these week-long meetings are designed to promote intimate, informal discussions of frontier science. Often confined to fewer than 125 attendees, they have traditionally been held in remote places with minimal distractions. Beginning in the early 1960s, I attended the summer Nucleic Acids Gordon Conference in rural New Hampshire, sharing austere dorm facilities in a private boys' school with randomly assigned roommates. As a beginning scientist, I found the question period after each talk especially fascinating, providing valuable insights into the personalities and ways of thinking of many senior scientists whom I had not encountered previously. Back then, there were no cellphones and no Internet, and all of the speakers seemed to stay for the entire week. During the long, session-free afternoons, graduate students mingled freely with professors. Many lifelong friendships were begun, and—as Gordon intended—new scientific collaborations began. Leap forward to today, and every scientist can gain immediate access to a vast store of scientific thought and to millions of other scientists via the Internet. Why, nevertheless, do in-person scientific meetings remain so valuable for a life in science?