Conferences serve many purposes, both professional and social. They aim to foster efficient information exchange, offer the opportunity to investigate employment possibilities, and provide a chance for old friends to get reacquainted. With a certain regularity and for a brief time a far-flung community comes together.

I am not the only one to have noticed, however, that many conferences serve younger professionals poorly. Graduate students and recent postdocs—the people who have the most to gain from attending a conference—often must overcome an array of organizational impediments and social obstacles before they can participate and benefit fully. The very structure of many conferences seems designed to separate the insiders from those not yet on the inside.

For example, one significant impediment is the high cost of getting to and registering for a conference. Travel expenses, especially for international conferences, are not trivial. While the expenses of a senior scientist will likely...

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