In The Field

FENS: a bit of context

We’re coming towards the end of the fifth FENS meeting inVienna. I remember the birth pains of this conference, which had the first of its now biennial meetings in Berlin in 1998. It’s nice to see that Europe can do big meetings efficiently. (It’s also rather rare.) Over 5200 scientists from 75 countries have shown up. The programme is good, of consistent high quality. And the whole thing is well-organised. The press facilities, normally a complete disaster in any European meeting, couldn’t be better. The general mood is upbeat.


You can tell you are in Europe, even in this bland out-of-town conference centre which could be almost anywhere. You notice that people go around in language groups much more often than you notice in the US. Maybe integration has a way to go. There is also a tendency for the audiences to start talking amongst themselves and moving around during question times. I don’t know why this habit is European, but it is. The Italian flag is even flying in the exhibition floor (for those who were on another planet last week, Italy won the World Cup von Sunday). And the food is edible.

For those who don’t know, FENS stands for Federation of European Neuroscience Societies. Back in the 1990s, national societies, some more willingly than others, agreed that they needed to shed their parochialism. Few European neuroscientists were visiting their neighbours’ meetings, but they all flocked over the Atlantic to the US Neuroscience meeting each November. They still do flock over to the US, quite rightly. But this meeting shows that the tide has turned.

The meeting is half the size of a typical US Neuroscience meeting, and all the better for it. Even so, you were always missing something good – that you could never be quite sure was not actually better – in the parallel session next door.

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