Why we should get rid of poster prizes at conferences

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Picture by ebbandflowphotography via flickr.

It’s that time of year again. Last week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for this years’ Academy Awards. Filmmakers and filmlovers (well, and also critics, fashonistas and gossip columnists) are on the edge of their seats: Who will win the Oscars this year? And as we wait for March 2nd – what better time to discuss awards of a different kind: poster prizes at conferences?

Poster prizes are a regular feature at many conferences. Poster prizes are usually either a moderately large sum of money (e.g. enough to go to a conference), or maybe a year-long subscription to a journal, or some gadget, like an iPod, which are awarded to the person (or people) who have the most interesting and well-presented poster. A small jury, consisting of established senior scientists, selects the winning posters, and the winner gets to be in the limelight of the meeting for about 30 seconds while he/she collects the prize. Often, winners are also given a short slot to talk about the results on the poster. So, really, you might say, poster prizes are great. It’s a just reward for the work that’s been done, and it may even spark some scientific discourse, because conference attendees will discuss the poster that got awarded.

But there’s a catch: Continue reading

The long road home

This morning I was catching up with some old podcasts from Science, and came across a report by John Bohannon, about scientists in Turkey. The report discusses how the country is trying to “attract expat Turkish scientists back home“, and Bohannon also makes the statement that “[t]he expat Turks that I have spoken to […] have plenty of criticisms of the current political environment in Turkey, but they really clearly love their homeland.“ (from the 26 July 2013 Science podcast).

This statement touched a nerve, because that’s kind of how I feel about returning to my home country, Hungary. Honestly, I’d love to go back: I love the people and the lifestyle. I think the country is full of potential (creative people with great ideas), which could give rise to amazing research if someone would tap into this goldmine. But when I think about returning I also instantly see all the problems of the academic system, which had motivated me to leave in the first place. Continue reading

On the (possible) Origin of Terrible PIs by Means of Natural Selection

This is a post about a species most young scientists have probably encountered at some point or another: terrible bosses. The PIs who are insecure, awful at recognizing and resolving conflicts, or distrustful control freaks. The group leaders, who think bullying employees, insisting on long working hours or installing a no-holiday policy will create a productive work environment. Or the (often young) PIs who are still so unaware of their position, and so involved in promoting themselves rather than their group, that they completely neglect their students/postdocs. The list goes on. Over the years I have seen many of my friends, who started off as enthusiastic, talented students, become victims of such bosses, and leave research disillusioned. And every time this happened, I have wondered how those PIs got their position in the first place? Continue reading