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My annual meeting conundrum

I’ve been going to SVP annual meetings for nearly 20 years. They have certainly gotten bigger during that interval as well as better in virtually all respects. There is always room for improvement, but overall, it is a fun and well-run meeting.

That being said, our annual meeting is fundamentally the same one I have been attending for nearly two decades. That strikes me as remarkable when I think about the changes that have taken place in academic publishing since I was in graduate school. Perhaps most conspicuous is how the time from submittal to publication of a manuscript can be well under a year, at least in the best-case scenario. (But see this Nature article for a counterpoint to that statement.) Such rapidity was nearly unheard of prior to digital publishing. Yet our meeting still runs on the same schedule, with abstract submission some 5-6 months before the meeting itself. For me, this usually results in one of two scenarios:

Situation 1: I’ve collected and analyzed all my data and actually given some thought as to what it all means. Writing my abstract is easy because I’ve already done all the work. In fact, since I have done all the work, I’m ready to submit this baby for publication. It may even be published before the meeting, but that’s OK because I will have a really easy time putting together my presentation.

Situation 2: I haven’t given much forethought as to what I should present, so I only have time to collect just enough data to write a plausible abstract. Fortunately, I can do a much better job in the ensuing six months and come up with something good by the time the meeting rolls around. The abstract I submitted may have little to do with what I present, but that’s OK because my presentation will be good, and that’s what people will remember. No one cares about the abstract after the study is published anyway.

I’m actually not very fond of either of these scenarios. In the first case, if I am going to present something that has already been published, why can’t I just show up and present my latest paper? Why do I have to commit to my topic five months in advance? In the second case, what is the point of publishing an abstract if it has little to do with what is actually presented? Why can’t I just summarize my presentation the week before I give it, when I really know what I am going to present?

There are many justifiable responses to the questions I pose above, but I think most of them are predicated on the assumption that we basically want to have the same type of meeting that we have always had.

Is that really true?

I don’t have a great idea for some a new type of SVP annual meeting. If I did, I would advocate for that in my role as a member of the Program Committee. But I do know that other fields have adapted their meetings to changing times to accommodate the quickening pace of research and exchange of ideas. Perhaps we paleontologists have a deeper link to history and tradition than some other fields, but wouldn’t it be cool to try something different sometime?

Give it some thought and we can chat about it at the annual meeting.

- Dr. Darin Croft is an Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
Posted: 4/6/2017 9:42:08 PM by croftdarinadmin | with 0 comments
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