Saturday, October 21, 2006

Society for Neuroscience Conference 2006

The Society for Neuroscience Conference was held this year in Atlanta, GA, from Oct 14-18, 2006. Here are a few thoughts of my experiences there.

Atlanta was an ideal venue and is one of the cleanest cities I've been in. There was literally no litter throughout the downtown area. There are also many fountains, statues and other niceties throughout the city that serve to differentiate it from your typical lot.

The conference center was very large. Fortunately, the Society for Neuroscience organizers had the sense to organize most activities within a circumscribed region of the conference center, with the exception of a few minisymposia which for some reason were located on the opposite side of the conference center and required a 2 mile trek to reach.

The "Dialogues Between Neuroscience and Society" talk, which last year featured the Dali Lama, this year featured architect, Frank Gehry. On the plus side, some interesting slides of the guy's architectural designs were displayed, but this did not make up for his poor execution in delivering his talk. It was like he didn't even prepare for it. And to top it off, there was no mention of neuroscience during his talk. I found myself, halfway through his talk, wondering why I was sitting in on an architecture talk at a neuroscience conference. Needless to say, I was very disappointed with Frank Gehry's talk, though some of his architectural designs were intriguing and memorable.

One of the things I despise about browsing the posters is the blatant desperation of some of the poster presenters. It's like some of them are waiting to trap you, desperate for attention. Oftentimes, I'm not influenced by these ploys, but on occasion, permit myself to indulge and to listen through a poster presentation that is reminiscint of a used car salesman's pitch. Please poster presenters, try to maintain your dignity! You know who you are.

I attended quite a few minisymposia and slide shows. Most notable were ones over brain-machine interfaces, theoretical neuroscience, and object coding in the visual system. Some will remember me from these minisymposia as the one who asked many questions, often critically. Speakers, beware. I have little patience for nonsense and run arounds. As for those speakers who can't speak comprehensible english and yet feel compelled to deliver talks at an english-speaking conference should take note that no-one understood their talks; hence the lack of questions following their talks.

Overall, the Society for Neuroscience Conference 2006 was one of the best yet. There were over 30,000 attendees, but so long as you focus on what interests you, then you shouldn't get overwhelmed by it all and still have energy to enjoy the city nightlife and make new friends and other contacts.

This is my 7th or 8th Society for Neuroscience Conference I've attended and presented at. What I find remarkable are all the new faces, even after many years of attending these things; I still recognize less than 2% of the faces I see (and probably closer to 1%), but given that there were 30,000 attendees, this works out to 300-600 people. I have noticed similar content in posters and talks year after year, with rare flashes of genuinely creative and brilliant work. It's these rare flashes of brilliance that make these conferences really worthwhile. Yes, the social aspect is great, but finding that rare cutting-edge flash of brilliant work that sheds (or is possible of shedding) new light on brain function and organization is greater. After all, we are all here to understand the brain, which is the equivalent of Know thy Self.


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