Littlest workshopTM – small, but productive meetings are the best

A duck and computer, all wrapped up in a nice package - extend this to a workshop and you'll have the LittlestTM Workshop.

A duck and computer, all wrapped up in a nice package – extend this to a workshop and you’ll have the LittlestTM Workshop.

By Jonas Waldenström

Last week we organized a duck immunology workshop here in Kalmar that brought together people with various backgrounds in pathogen research, immunology, and movement ecology.

And it was a great meeting! Over the course of two days we presented data, discussed findings, and crafted possible research roads for the future. We also ate out on restaurants, and went to Ottenby Bird Observatory for some hands-on experience of birds. Some of the folks had met before, but most had not. My co-organizer Robert Kraus (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology) and I wanted to have a small meeting that fostered interactions. And it small it was, actually only 14 people. But we coined it the first International Duck Immunology Workshop (IDIW), partly for fun and partly because we would like to see this series to continue.

Me, Martin Wikelski and a duck - as well as a slightly tilted horizon. Photo Helena Westerdahl.

Me, Martin Wikelski and a duck – as well as a slightly tilted horizon. Photo Helena Westerdahl.

Anyway, what are the benefits of a small meeting?

To start with, everyone gets involved, and you have plenty of time to talk to each other. In my experience, lasting collaborations depend on social interactions – you are more inclined to do good science with someone you know, than with someone you never met. With time, such collaborations turn into friendship, and it is incredible how much you can do with a set of friends. Actually, I think most of the stuff I have done in my career would have been impossible without good friends that chipped in with ideas and analyzes.

Secondly, ideas come more easily in shared brainstorming. By connecting disparate dots, a cohesive picture may appear. The opposite is also true – your wonderful idea perhaps wasn’t properly thought through, and comments from folks with a different background may help you find the weak spots.

Thirdly, if we want to foster a new generation of scientists, we PIs need to provide a space for our students. Newly started PhD students are often intimidated at big scientific conferences, overwhelmed by it all, and old PIs tend to talk with other old PIs, rather than with unknown students. In this meeting we had two fresh PhD students that were given time to present their ideas of what to do in their projects, and to get direct feedback on their plans. Quite brave of them, but also very fruitful.

So, yes, size of a scientific meeting matter. A lot! Larger meetings have the benefit of attracting a bigger crowd, but if carefully crafted a small meeting can give all the output from a large one, but in distilled form. Let’s go for more Littlest WorkshopsTM in the future, shall we?

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