Support for Scientific Meetings

To ensure that we are using our resources in the most effective and efficient way possible, we are examining all of our funding mechanisms. One area that we have recently focused on, in part due to the current fiscal situation, is our support for scientific meetings, conferences and workshops. We understand the importance of these meetings, but we receive a large number of requests to support them and have concluded that it is not cost-effective to consider most of these requests. The numerous applications for small conference grants are costly to process and review, and the funds used for them compete directly with research project grants, including R01s. Our priority is to use our resources in the ways that most directly promote research and training, which already include mechanisms to allow students and fellows to attend scientific meetings.

In general, we will only support meetings that:

  • Are closely aligned with our central mission and interests;
  • Are non-recurring, unless they focus on training or workforce development in areas pertinent to our mission;
  • Include participants who do not frequently interact in other venues.

Simply because a meeting falls within the general areas of science we support does not mean that we will consider it for funding.

We therefore anticipate that we will accept very few R13 or U13 applications in the future. We strongly encourage potential applicants to contact us before requesting approval to submit an application. For a list of contact people and more information on the application process, see http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Research/Mechanisms/Pages/
SupportScientificMeetings.aspx

4 comments on “Support for Scientific Meetings

  1. The effective elimination of funding for scientific meetings, conferences and workshops is very disappointing and I believe represents a short-sighted view by the NIGMS. This decision was made with no input from those who spend considerable time and effort, plus raising philanthropic support, to run meetings and workshop programs. Scientific conferences and workshop programs, plus the advanced training courses whose funding is also being reduced, are the life-blood of all fields of science. They provide a means of disseminating information and technologies. They also nurture the careers of young scientists (not just those on NIGMS training grants) who use these opportunities to learn, meet peers and obtain essential visibility in their new community of scientists. While I understand that administering applications for individual meetings may be a problem, I ask the NIGMS reconsider this decision and at least discuss with us how the scientific community can obtain support for these valuable programs.

    Bruce Stillman
    President, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

  2. Effective communication is the lifeblood of science. If I conduct wonderful RO1-funded research but don’t communicate it well – not just to my peers in the same discipline but to unexpected, peripheral communities and individuals – it might as well never have happened. Even in this digital age, there’s no substitute for face-to-face contact as an effective means of communication, particularly when this occurs between grad students, postdocs and seasoned investigators who haven’t interacted before. I would argue that the scientific benefit per $ of a small conference, workshop or advanced training grant is substantially higher than that of an RO1 grant near the payline. (Are there any solid studies of this point?) Obviously, balance is needed; with no RO1 grants, there’s no research to present at conferences or workshops. I fully agree with Bruce Stillman’s comments, and urge NIGMS to reconsider this decision.
    Keith Moffat
    University of Chicago
    Chair of an upcoming Gordon Research Conference

  3. We will continue to support conferences and symposia through the R13/U13 mechanisms within the parameters outlined in the Feedback Loop blog post. This policy simply formalizes what has been the practice for many years in several of our divisions. We will fund courses and training workshops through the R25 mechanism.

    In addition to the significant level of support for student and faculty attendance at conferences that we already provide through R01s and other research and training grants, we intend to make a limited number of R25 grants to professional societies and other organizations to support travel award programs to allow students and fellows to attend scientific meetings. An FOA for the NIGMS R25 program should be published in the next few months. These changes will allow us to target our conference-related investments to the highest priority areas – facilitating attendance of a diverse group of students and fellows at scientific conferences, and supporting conferences and workshops focused on training – and will also permit us to fund additional R01s, which is an area of critical need.

  4. Regarding Keith Moffet’s question , several years ago, Keystone Symposia conducted a longitudinal survey, following up at 9 and 18 months after meetings, asking if attendees learned something at the meeting that saved them money or allowed them to redirect research funds more effectively, and if so how much money. More than half said yes and the average was $32,000 per person. At the time, we did a conservative extrapolation of what this might mean with regard to redirecting NIH grant funds more effectively, and we calculated the amount to be about $30 million per year due to information learned at our meetings. Considering inflation since that survey, the amount today is likely considerably higher. Since the original survey, we have asked a similar question on all of our post-meeting surveys, and year-after-year over half of attendees agree with the statement that they saved. The relevant percentage is probably much higher for grant holders, considering that 40% of our responders to the survey are graduate students and posdoctoral fellows, and probably less likely to be involved in tracking lab/grant expenses (and we know are less likely to be in the group that respond affirmatively).
    Jim Aiken, CEO
    Keystone Symposia

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