Special Feature: Seeing the World Through Science

Martin Pool at Jukkasjärvi

Scientific conferences are not just great places to network, learn new techniques, and exchange ideas. They also offer scientists a chance to leave their familiar surroundings and the stress that inevitably accompanies scientific research. One of the most important characteristics of a good host city--or village, or whatever--is having things to do when you're not talking science--and even when you are talking science.

Because it's not just about relaxation and getting away from the scientific grind. Sometimes a change of scenery--accompanied by the opportunity to talk scientific shop with colleagues you don't see very often--can be the best way to get out of a rut, shake off conventional thinking, and come up with truly new scientific ideas. There's something about a scenic vista that lubricates the flow of good ideas.

This ScienceCareers.org feature highlights the sites, sounds, tastes, and ambience of some of our readers' and writers' favorite conference locations, from quaint towns to cosmopolitan cities. As an incentive to get great stories, we offered prizes to the top four entries as determined by the editorial staff. (Some of our writers and editors contributed entries, but they weren't eligible for the prizes). The grand-prize winner will receive an iPod. Three runners-up will get flash media sticks embossed with the ScienceCareers.org logo. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all of the participants.

Grand Prize: Richard Lemert, Kemer and Antalya

First runner-up: Martin Pool, Jukkasjärvi

Second runner-up: Maria Bostenaru, Cotê d’Azur

Third runner-up: Crina Frincu-Mallos, Acquafredda di Maratea

Kemer and Antalya

About 15 years ago, I attended a small NATO ASI near the village of Kemer, Turkey, which is about 20 miles from Antalya. It was held at a small hotel owned by one of the Turkish universities--who marketed it for events like this--in an area that was becoming a significant resort center. Many of the attendees brought their spouses, and a few even brought their small children with them …


A few years ago while I was a postdoc, we had our annual network meeting at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi in the north of Sweden. What a great place for a meeting! The whole hotel is built completely of ice each year; apparently it melts in the summer …

Côte d’Azur

The sea is just so blue in photos taken from the Côte d'Azur seaside that it seems unreal. But I’ve been there, and that turquoise is the colour of the sea indeed. I think it is because of the fact that the beaches are not made out of sand, but out of white stone, which gives a different background to the deeper sea waters. The conference center in Nice is called "Acropolis" and features numerous conference rooms, poster tents, wireless Internet access, and everything else that the organisers of an international conference might dream of …

Acquafredda di Maratea

Everybody's dream is to visit Europe in the early summer, when tourists are still rare and summer heat is yet to come. Your mind starts traveling without your body, visas, or luggage, and you find yourself by the Mediterranean Sea taking in the blasting sun, the scent coming from the green hills, and the soothing sound of the blue-green waves meeting the black (ouch!) pebbles. Your body relaxes and your mind feels clear and crisp. Orchards of luxurious orange and lemon trees are appearing on the back of your closed eyelids, and your hand grasps for that cool glass of limoncello. But wait--you are in a graduate program and your most beloved summers do not belong to you anymore; you are supposed to be in the lab, doing research …


I would certainly put Keystone, Colorado on the list--sessions at the stem cell (and presumably other) meetings only in the morning and late afternoon so you can swim or go skiing in the p.m.--especially wonderful for people like me who find it very difficult to stay awake in afternoon conference rooms.

Pacific Grove

My vote for the best conference location is the AsilomarConferenceCenter in Pacific Grove, California. It's on the Monterrey Peninsula, in a forested area overlooking the Pacific. Accommodations and meeting rooms are rustic, "Arts and Crafts" style wooden buildings in a campuslike setting. It's a great location for relatively small, intense gatherings. It's also a wonderful area for running. A big plus, in my view: no televisions in the rooms …


The 1991 international AIDS conference was held in Florence, Italy, in the most beautiful venue I've ever seen: The Fortezza da Basso, which connects to the Palazzo dei Congressi and the Palazzo degli Affari. The conference also had posters everyday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., which meant that people really had a chance to meet over lunch …

Steamboat Springs

The best for me was a Keystone conference in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which was organized around the skiing. The meeting was small, giving you a chance to meet some of the bigwigs and the talks were kept to the morning and evening, leaving the afternoons free to hit the slopes. The snow was not as great as it was at the end of the season, but as an addition to the science it was fantastic …


The French exobiology short-course ExoBio is held at a beachside resort in Propriano, Corsica. While the talks and posters start early and finish late, there is a "lunch break" from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. to encourage discussions amongst attendees. Generally these meetings take place on the beach, in the water, under the water (SCUBA!), on kayaks, or while hiking up in the surrounding rugged hills. Of course, lunch includes abundant French wine: a great catalyst for lively discussions …

Bordeaux and Toronto

Having been to many, many conferences this is not a simple decision. Out off the forty or so places I have been to for a conference, I would have to say that the most memorable for the locale and nonscientific amenities were Bordeaux for a small conference (two or three hundred) and Toronto for a large one (well over a thousand) …


The quaintest meeting facility would have to go to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas. Started in 1970 or so when the first moon rocks came back, it was held in the employee recreation center on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center. The large meeting room was the gym. A couple of other meeting rooms holding maybe 100 each were elsewhere in the building; one required a curtain along the hall to cut out sights, but not sounds, from below. Attendance grew toward 1000, as I recall, until post 9/11 security at JSC, in particular with respect to foreigners, kicked the meeting off the grounds …


Indianapolis, Indiana, is a great place to have a conference. I've attended two meetings there, and both were very enjoyable, not just because of the conference but because of Indianapolis. Indianapolis is a very clean, nice city for a metropolitan area. The convention center is near plenty of restaurants and shopping, as well as lodging. Indianapolis is also home to the National Institute for Fitness and Sport, which is a great place to work out and get some activity. The reason I enjoyed the area around the conference so much was because the city has a waterway with sidewalks for running, walking, and biking. I enjoyed jogs with colleagues and friends there. The waterway and Institute provided great places to exercise and relax away from the hustle and bustle of the conference …


My nomination for worst location/hottest science combination: The oncogene meeting used to be famous for its lack of creature comforts. It was held every year at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, in June, with people staying in unair-conditioned dorms and eating in the cafeteria. But they would always say the science was even hotter than the weather. They eventually began alternating with San Diego, which appeased people for awhile. I only went once, ages ago …

Budapest, Hungary

I remember so little of the trip that took us from Budapest to our conference location that I would be unable to point at it on the Hungarian map. I don't remember much more about the scientific content of the conference--other than it was about all things immunoglobulin like--that was hammered into our brains for nearly a whole week. But I still have vivid memories of how beautiful the place was and how warmly our Hungarian hosts welcomed us …


The best location for a conference I ever attended was Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. I was there for EUORBIC 7 from 29 August to 2 September 2004. What made Garmisch-Partenkirchen such a great spot for a conference? Two things--it was stunningly beautiful and there were so many lovely hikes of various lengths and intensities very close to the conference site. On those days when we had a little extra free time, we were able to hike up into the mountains. (Garmisch-Parternkirchen is the site of Germany's highest mountain, Zugspitze) …


Corsica is renowned for its secluded beaches and rugged mountains, its fierce will for independence, and if you’re a scientist, the Cargèse Scientific Institute. I discovered this Corsican gem during a summer course on membrane biogenesis. Sun and sea, wine and cheese--the program was tantalizing …

Heron Island

At the Southern tip of Australia's Great Barrier Reef lies Heron Island: A small cay that has taken thousands of years to emerge from living coral. Every 3 years or so Heron becomes host to a group of immunologists who gather to discuss the thymus; also small, but important as an immunological organ. “ThymOz,” as the conference has affectionately become known, is an intimate (it has to be!), workshop-style meeting that combines a magical week of scientific discussion, social interaction, discovery, and even adventure.

Robin Arnette is editor of MiSciNet.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers

A 3D plot from a model of the Ebola risk faced at different West African regions over time.
Dancing sneakers on pavement
siderailarticle x promo

Follow Science Careers