Debbie Knight

By the way, you must attend!

In observation on January 19, 2012 at 9:00 am

The meeting
My lab received some funding from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in May 2011.

And once a year, the grantees are required to present their findings at a meeting. While mandatory, the grant does not provide any money towards the travel, hotel accommodations, or the registrations costs to attend this meeting. Instead the money to attend this required meeting either comes out of the researcher’s wallet or, if he or she is lucky enough, some other funding source. In our case, it will come from my boss’ departmental discretionary account.

This meeting serves two purposes. One is accountability to the funding agency. It’s sort of like a “live” progress report. The National Institute of Health (NIH) also requires an annual progress report but it’s in writing rather as a formal presentation.

I firmly believe there should be accountability of how grant funding is used and what scientific findings it has yielded. However, I’m not entirely sure it needs to be in the “live” presentation format. It would be more cost-effective to require a written report than to spend the money (and researcher’s time) in a meeting. But to expect the researcher to pay his/her own way to a mandatory meeting? That may be too much.

A second purpose of the meeting is to facilitate an exchange of ideas and forge collaborations amongst grantees. I can see this has the benefit of reducing duplication of research efforts and increasing the return on the research investment.

Last year the meeting was inWashington,D.C.and held at the USDA/NIFA offices. There were no registration costs for this meeting. However, this year the meeting is inOrlando,Floridaat one of the Disney resort hotels, and there are what the organizers call a “modest fee” associated with the meeting. I was a little naïve thinking it would be maybe $50 or less. It turns out to be $200 per attendee. Yes, compared to other conferences supported by scientific societies, this fee might be considered “modest.” But remember, this is coming out of the researcher’s own pocket, not from the grant.

I’m not sure that this meeting should be held any where but at the Washington, Is it appropriate (or necessary) to have it at Disney World Resort? Okay, so it is a food nanotechnology safety meeting and Disney does use the song “It’s a Small World” at its park – perhaps that is the tenuous connection.


The preparation
Our research collaborative is already preparing the presentation which will be given sometime during the meeting February 2 through 4.

In my experience with scientists preparing presentations for meetings, this is WAY ahead of schedule – usually it’s the week before (or on the flight to the meeting!), with everyone in the lab scrambling to graph their data to make it, well, presentable.

I think we’re ahead of schedule because it is spear-headed by the chemist of the group. He is worried that we should have made more progress this year. Perhaps this is true. But considering we were told that the grant would start January 1 and  we did not get the actual check until May, we’re not doing too shabby. Without that check, we couldn’t do any experiments because we needed it to buy the supplies to do those experiments. He’s worried that we will be held accountable for the five months of waiting and that the funding will be withdrawn – a valid concern in these economic times for sure.

At last week’s lab meeting, he outlined a 36-slide presentation. A general rule of thumb is to budget one minute per slide. Some slides will be quickly covered (in a few seconds), but others will require explanation (this could take more than one minute). So on average, it comes to one minute per slide. He anticipated our group would have 40 minutes (including audience questions) for the presentation. Not so. We were informed later in the week the talks are only 20 minutes– that means we need to do some serious editing. This is currently underway.

The attendees
Most of the attendees will be the principal investigators. My boss feels that the graduate student on the project and I can learn quite a bit as well as get new research ideas from attending this meeting. So, I think the two of us will be the exception rather than the rule at this meeting.

Again, this comes out of the researcher’s pocket, so this is very generous of my boss to permit us to attend.

There are many a principal investigator who would not feel this way. Often at scientific society meetings, only the principal investigator attends. Sometimes, a graduate student or post-doctoral researcher will be allowed to present his or her data. But rarely does a research associate such as myself get to attend and/or present.

I consider it a privilege to attend the meeting and will therefore do my best to soak in all that is presented.

This will be our graduate student’s first meeting. It will be interesting to see the process through a fresh pair of eyes.

So, what do you think? Should an annual meeting be mandatory from a granting agency without any travel allowance?


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