While working toward his doctorate in 1973, plant geneticist Peter Gresshoff received an invitation to attend one of the meetings sponsored every summer by the Gordon Research Conferences. For Gresshoff, the mere fact that he was tapped to join the select group of 100 scientists participating in the conference constituted an honor in itself. Substantially more exciting, though, was the prospect of spending a week in close quarters with some of the top researchers in his field.

The invitation carried with it a waiver of the registration fee and a small travel stipend. Only one complication remained. Gresshoff, who was studying at the Australian National University in Canberra, had to find a way to pay for his trip to the conference site - in New Hampshire, half a world away.

Gresshoff first turned to his department, which responded with some token support. Left to his own resources to finance the...

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