Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Femex 2014 in Oslo has just ended

I thoroughly enjoyed the second "Promoting Female Excellence in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry" conference, both in choice of speakers and convivial atmosphere. The ratio of female/male speakers obviously favored females, but considering the nature of the conference I would not mind if it were even more skewed towards the female end of the scale, as it probably encourages audience questions from women. The format was very adequate, but ratio between established/early-career speakers might probably be adjusted slightly (for example by including a dozen more  presentations selected from poster submissions) to enable increased "name-recognition" of younger researchers.

An extra day or two, and some more free time for socialization would have been very welcome: I found that the enthusiasm and conversation flow increased substantially after the banquet talk, but by that time the meeting was coming to an end and productive conversations had to be cut short due to the need to catch the flights home. If the "after-banquet talk" could be moved to the first night of the conference, the focus of conversations during the meeting might have included more reflexion on the sociology of our profession, the way that the subtle biases which discourage hiring scientists with a publication-gap of a few years are built/accepted/torn down, and so forth. That talk did serve as a wonderful conversation starter.

I loved the presence of  children in the meeting, and think that a specific sentence in the conference website stating that they are welcome to the conferences would have a positive effect in lowering barriers to attendance, and in removing the prevalent "productivity-minded" biases which make graduate students, post-docs, non-tenured faculty feel that embracing a scientific career must lead to a neglect of other important parts of life. No matter how many "empowering" talks, positive discrimination, awareness campaings, etc., an academic culture where powerful figures of authority (whether star professors, PIs or funding agencies) demand or expect that researchers put their personal life behind their scientific productivity  skews the resulting researcher pool towards the obsessively-driven, hyper-ambitious, un-empathic tail of the population spectrum.  Whether that tail is mostly male, mostly female, or "equal-opportunity", it favors non-collegial behavior and chases good people away. Hyper-ambitious researchers may be very productive, but they cannot produce much science if their behavior leads to talented people fleeing towards other endeavors.

Congratulations to the organizing team, and a heartfelt "thank you" to all participants.

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