Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What do we want in a conference venue?

The APS March Meeting was in Las Vegas this year, and I have yet to talk to a single attendee who liked that decision in hindsight.  In brief, the conference venue seemed about 10% too small (severe crowding issues in hallways between sessions); while the APS deal on hotels was pretty good, they should have prominently warned people that not using the APS housing portal means you fall prey to Las Vegas’s marketing schtick of quoting a low room rate but hiding large “resort fees”; with the exception of In N Out Burger, the food was very overpriced (e.g. $12 for a coffee and a muffin in the Starbucks in my hotel); and indoor spaces in town generally smelled like stale cigarettes, ineffective carpet cleaner, and desperation.

I don’t think it’s that hard to enumerate what most people would like out of a conference venue, if we are intending to have in-person meetings and are going to spend grant money and valuable time to attend the meeting with our groups. (I’m taking as a given that the March meeting is large - now up to 12K attendees, for good or ill - and I know that’s so big that some people will decide that it’s too unwieldy to be worth going.  Likewise, I know that the logistics are always difficult in terms of the abstract sorting and trying to make sure that likely-popular sessions get higher capacity rooms.)

Off the top of my head, I would like:

  • A meeting venue that can accommodate everyone without feeling dangerously crowded at high volume transit times between sessions, with a good selection of hotels nearby that don’t have crazy room rates.  (I know that the meeting growth already likely rules out a lot of places that have hosted the March meeting in the past.)
  • A high density of relatively cheap restaurants, including sandwich places, close to the venue for lunch, so that a quick bite is possible without hiking a mile or being forced to spend $20 on convention center food.
  • Actual places to sit (tables and chairs) to talk with fellow attendees.  Las Vegas had a much smaller number of these (indoors) than previous locations.
  • Reasonable availability of water (much better these days than in the past) and not-outrageously-priced coffee and tea.
  • Wifi that actually can accommodate the number of attendees; at some point in Las Vegas I basically gave up on the conference wifi and tethered to my phone.  Remember, many of us still have to get some level of work done (like submitting annoyingly timed proposals) while at these.
  • Modern levels of accommodations for nursing mothers, childcare, facilities for those with disabilities or mobility issues, etc. 
Are there major items that I’m missing?  Do readers have suggestions for meeting sites that can hit all of these?  I am well aware that the APS is financially constrained to make these arrangements years in advance.  It can’t hurt to discuss this, though, especially raising concerns about problems to avoid.


arun said...

From past meetings - Boston, Baltimore, Denver were quite ok. Unsure about issues like childcare availability etc.

DanM said...

There is a reason that CLEO is in the same place every year. Less interesting as a tourist, maybe. But quite functional as a conference.

Anonymous said...

"One of the early triumphs of quantum mechanics was to predict how matter can exist, and in what forms, at the very high pressures found in many [conference venues]"

Hemley and Ashcroft, Nature 380.6576 (1996): 671-672.

Anonymous said...

You probably want the conference to take place in a metro area with a major airport to make it easier to travel to the venue. As for food, would it be possible to have food trucks come close by to the venue?

Anonymous said...

Why not take inspiration from the NFL International Series? Once every 5 years, have the meeting in e.g. Florence, Montevideo, Singapore etc?

Anonymous said...

I agree with all these points. Perhaps APS expected a lower turnout this year, and so booked a somewhat too small venue, but then ended up having a terrible virtual experience last year pushing more people to attending in-person. As for places to sit and talk, there were certainly too few of them indoors, but I really did enjoy the outdoors tables. Of course, with different weather that might have been a different story... As for affordable food, out of the March meetings I've attended I remember San Antonio had a lot of good options close to the convention center.

Douglas Natelson said...

Yes, a major airport is necessary - good point that I should've mentioned. Re food trucks, the problem is that most major convention and conference venues do not allow food trucks to set up right there. I remember even back in grad school musing with fellow students that someone could set up a decent little coffee cart just off the convention center property and make a fortune, only to learn that convention centers explicitly discourage this.

One point regarding virtual meeting components: The firm that APS used for the virtual March meeting in 2021 did a good job, all things considered, but I am reliably informed that doing that in addition to a physical meeting is just not financially do-able.

ACS and MRS have considerable industrial sponsorship to help support their meetings. APS historically has not seemed to pursue this. Likewise, I'd think that some philanthropic donor could potentially endow the APS meetings to the point where some of these financial model issues would be less critical, but I'm sure development like that would not be simple.

Eric Bittner said...

Only $12 for coffee at Starbucks? The Dunkin Donut large coffee + crappy bagel (by virtue of topology) was $25!

I totally agree, Vega APS was a dumpster trash fire. The ONLY reasonable place I could find for lunch with a collaborator was (wait for it…) The Twisted Kilt! Which is sort of an English Pub themed Hooters.

Chicago is a good site. Boston. Honolulu is AMAZINGLY good and relatively reasonable in March/April. I was there last year for the Spring MRS and found it to be a perfect site (although everyone I knew who went came home with COVID.)

Steve Dodge said...

Philip Phillips and Michael Weissman advocated successfully for reviewing police conduct in potential APS conference sites.

Currently a petition is circulating to relocate the 2024 APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting from Memphis, TN, because the Tennessee legislature has passed laws that are discriminatory against our LGBTQIA+ members.

The MAP project compiles information about LGBTQ-related state legislation that could provide a basis for decision making.

The APS Committee on Scientific Meetings is listed below.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your nonsensical intervention. Could you please take your friends and solve another critically important problem elsewhere? Thanks again.