September 3rd, 2010
ESC: Similarities and Differences
Many things about ESC felt different compared to other conferences I’ve attended — and as many felt the same. The basics were familiar— the welcome booths, the exhibits, and the masses of semi-serious looking people sporting the requisite badge-plus-bag accessory combo. (Thank goodness the bags were bright green and easy to spot from a mile away, saving me many a moment of disorientation while navigating the city.)
The differences weren’t quite as obvious at first. Sponsored sessions were held in the main conference venue in the late afternoons, rather than way before or after hours. There seemed to be relatively few fellows here — and very few sessions geared specifically to early-career attendees. Procedure-oriented sessions (e.g., on transcatheter aortic valve implantation) were extremely popular — I don’t know if this is because many attendees were interventionalists without other access to a transcatheter cardiovascular therapeutics conference or because general excitement around procedures is just higher overall. Part of me wonders if at least some of this interest is related to how research is done at many European centers. It took sitting down with one of my German colleagues to get a better sense of this. . . .
In all but a few countries, it seems, research can only be done during evenings and weekends — i.e., only in one’s spare time. Very few people, even in large academic centers, have truly protected time and support to do research or anything else but their clinical work. Grants are sparse and very hard to get. Industry sponsorship is helpful when available, but it is often only available in certain research areas. Even if a fellow or junior faculty member is somehow able to muster up the free time to get research done and have an abstract accepted at a conference, there is still no guarantee of funding support to cover travel costs. In such cases, one might be lucky to find outside support from a sponsor.
I realize that the perspective I got is only from one person, and different situations and circumstances probably exist. But it did give me pause. It will be interesting to see if things change over the next few years, as more regulations governing academic–industry relations are adopted across Europe and the economic climate, hopefully, improves enough to allow growth in alternate options for research support.
If anybody has any additional perspectives on this, I’d be interested to hear them. Meanwhile, my first ESC experience has left me with a lot of great food for thought — both science and non-science related.