There is, as far as I am concerned, no bigger racket than academic conferences. You have no choice but to attend them when you are just starting the profession, as a graduate student and as an assistant professor, when you really don’t have the money to travel. Most universities, controlled by state governments where Republicans have decided that state workers should be able to live on $0.18 a day when they are not being flogged in the stocks in the public square for being a taker, give very little travel money–usually about $1000 a year. Given that most conferences’ registration fees run between $400 and $1000, you wind up paying for travel to conferences out of your own pocket–a pocket that doesn’t have any money in it at that stage of your career.
So my student emailed me this morning to tell me his abstract has been assigned to a poster session for the upcoming AESOP/ACSP conference. I get why they went that route for some of their sessions. They get lots of abstracts, and if they turn people down, then that’s cash they don’t get. So they just accept a bunch of abstracts and fill rooms with a herds of people, take their money, but actually given them very little of the podium time/exposure that young academics pay to go to conferences for. (We tell ourselves it’s to improve our work. I can count on one hand in 10 years of conference-going how many times I’ve had anybody say anything that furthers the research. )
Mostly, though, the reason posters suck is that they add considerably to the cost of conference attendance, which, as I pointed out, you’re already mostly paying for yourself anyway. Full-size posters cost you at least $200 to print, they are hard to take on the plane, and then when you get home you have great useless poster you don’t really want to throw away (because it cost $200!) but it really has little use for anything else. It’s one thing if you are a consultant and go to conference after conference drumming up business. But academics aren’t like that, and while posters are standard in many science fields (where it is possible to use the poster for more than one conference), with ACSP, this just winds up adding to the cost of the conference onto attendees while collecting full registrations from them.
TRB a few years ago started with the poster stuff, and they rather prove out what happens when an organization becomes entirely undisciplined about it. They have poster session after poster session, scraping in registration fees–and the conference is far less useful to young academics than it was when I was starting out.
Organizations less willing to screw over participants would give them a choice up-front when you submit: a) I am or b) I am not willing to give a poster session, and then, if one is slotted into a poster session, you should get a break with a somewhat lower registration fee to deal with the extra costs. The former would save them dealing with withdrawals like me–if they tell me they are putting me in a poster session, I just don’t go, and it would useful for organizations to know that up front. I’d rather they just reject the abstract up front. (And before anybody screams at me, I can’t handle the social interaction of poster session due to anxiety related to my Asperger’s. I’ve trained myself to deal with presentations. I’ve never been able to manage the parties and/poster sessions.)