Responding to input and requests from membership, ASM has planned some big changes for the General Meeting in New Orleans this spring, including a significant reduction in the number of scientific sessions and the debut of a two-track system that underscores the distinctions between the medical and general microbiology segments of the meeting. A commentary appearing in mBio this week summarizes the recommendations of a committee tasked with overhauling the 100-year-old meeting and the rationale for the changes in store.
“We are at a time in the history of biology where microbiology should be front and center,” says Margaret McFall-Ngai, Chair of the ASM General Meeting and a member of the task force. “We have to have a meeting that integrates microbiology and demonstrates how microbiology interfaces with other aspects of science. If we were to stay the same we would miss a huge opportunity.”
"This is not your father's microbiology meeting," jokes McFall-Ngai.
McFall-Ngai and the rest of the task force were charged with evaluating the organization of the meeting and helping to chart its future course. In addition to McFall-Ngai, task force members included the Chair, Jeff Miller, Vice-Chair of the General Meeting Arturo Casadevall, ASM President Bonnie Bassler, Roberto Kolter, Stan Maloy, and Lucia Rothman-Denes.
Perhaps the first change repeat attendees will notice is the start day: the 2011 opening session will take place on Saturday evening instead of Sunday. Three full days of scientific sessions will follow the opening session, ending on Tuesday evening – a half day shorter than the old program, which went from Sunday to Thursday afternoon.
Another obvious change is the move to a two-track system that includes a “medical microbiology track”, which caters to the needs of the clinical community, and the “general microbiology track”, which encompasses the rest of the sessions. Arturo Casadevall is adamant that the two-track system doesn’t represent a schism, but rather that it reflects the fact that the two groups look for different things when attending a meeting.
“They have different needs. In medical microbiology, they have a need to go to a meeting to get [continuing education] updates, whereas the scientists don’t really have that requirement as a part of their job,” says Casadevall. Even in the past, he says, the General Meeting was pretty neatly divided between the two themes, each with its own sessions. “What we have done is we have just consolidated everything into two tracks.”
McFall-Ngai says the two-track system should not limit movement or cross-talk at the meeting. “We have made sure that the timing of each session, and each presentation within each session, and so on, are completely in lock step. Somebody who is very integrative can go back and forth across the two tracks. There will be no timing problems.”
The total number of scientific sessions will also be cut in response to requests from attendees at past meetings who complained that there was too much overlap among simultaneous sessions and too many sessions to attend, says McFall-Ngai.
McFall-Ngai and Casadevall agree that the General Meeting faces competition from other, smaller microbiology meetings that it did not face a generation ago, and many of the changes made to ASM2011 are aimed at enhancing the chief strength of the meeting: integrative science.
“Why would I come to the General Meeting?” says McFall-Ngai. “Because I want to put my work in the context of the larger field of microbiology. If the General Meeting were of such a format as it has been in the past where we looked at very focused topics, any given individual might come and go to a series of sessions that might be better represented at a Gordon conference or small ASM conference.”
“One of the major functions of the General Meeting is to integrate across the entire spectrum of microbiology. We have asked the division chairs and reps to make an effort to increase participation and think about these issues of integrating across the topics,” she says.
McFall-Ngai says it isn’t always easy for humans to embrace change, and the former format of the General Meeting has some inertia among the membership, but she is confident that the differences will make for a better experience for attendees. Speaking for the organizing committee, McFall-Ngai extends an invitation to ASM’s membership to come to New Orleans in May to participate in the meeting in its new incarnation.
“We’re going back to a town that’s had some challenges and struggles and I’m enthusiastic about supporting their economy and bringing the meeting to New Orleans again.”
ASM's General Meeting website: http://gm.asm.org/