Winter Brain vs GRCs

January 25, 2015

The winter “ski meeting” is about as junkety as it gets in science. It looks bad to spend the Federal grant dollars attending an academic meeting at a ski area. Especially when sessons are planned in a way to carve out plenty of daylight hours for skiing.

And yet your standard GRC does the same thing. Except you replace skiing the Rockies with hiking in the Appalachians.

Somehow the latter seems less like an elite and frivolous activity.

But really, it is about the same thing.

H/t: a certain troll

59 Responses to “Winter Brain vs GRCs”

  1. LincolnX Says:

    My opinion is the most useful collaborations occur outside scheduled and regimented “events”. There should be room for these human interactions. I’d only question whether skiing provides that, and whether the expense of skiing would be yet another barrier to inclusion.


  2. AcademicLurker Says:

    I’d only question whether skiing provides that

    Are you saying you don’t have your most productive scientific discussions while speeding down a mogul filled double black diamond slope?


  3. LincolnX Says:

    That’s exactly what I’m saying, brah.


  4. drugmonkey Says:

    Chair lift dudes! Focal time with collaborators and BSDs!


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    Ps. If there is a whiter* sport than skiing I’m hard pressed to name it.

    *outside of one ski area I went to recently that was shockingly brown.


  6. pinus Says:

    hockey is whiter than skiing no?


  7. Dr Becca Says:

    All scientific meetings should be held in underground bunkers in the middle of nowhere with no sunlight or views of any kind. Talks and poster sessions run straight through from waking until sleeping. Soylent Green for every meal.

    Eh. I’d say that the amount of formal hours dedicated to science at ski meetings and GRCs is about the same as similarly-sized conferences that end everything by 5:30, it’s just a question of when your free time is.


  8. MoBio Says:

    @DM: “It looks bad to spend the Federal grant dollars attending an academic meeting at a ski area. ”

    From WCBR 2015: “Serotonin and the desire to ski”

    I’m guessing this will not be entirely about skiing and serotonin?


  9. Busy Says:

    “If there is a whiter* sport than skiing I’m hard pressed to name it.”

    Do you mean upper middle class? because somehow I don’t see deep south rednecks going to Aspen either, while I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Scottie Pippen and Will Smith in the slopes.


  10. Pinko Punko Says:

    Golf. Water skiing. Lacrosse.


  11. Morgan Price Says:

    More science, less travel budgets!


  12. Dunno. It was always hard to get approval (we had a contract not a grant) for a February genomics meeting in San Marco, FL. Irony was, this is actually a really important genomics tech meeting.


  13. MorganPhD Says:

    I’m junketing at Keystone this week. I was just told only PI’s with 3 R01s get to do the double black diamond runs. Postdocs get left on the bunny hill.


  14. drugmonkey Says:

    Busy- those guys are “rich”, not “upper middle class”, for starters. Two rich guys don’t really make a dent in the daily ticket sales of an average ski mountain.

    And in any case, given the association of wealth with being white, my comment stands.


  15. drugmonkey Says:

    MorganPhD- I could see a win-win here….. #tragicaccident


  16. becca Says:

    I thought dressage was The Whites Sport, followed by crew?

    But Stormfront thinks hockey is the whitest, so there is that.


  17. Ola Says:

    Rugby fives would be e whitest sport ever, but yeah skiing is a close second.

    Re: GRC, depends where it is. Some of their NH venues are boring as fuck – bunking in a school house next to a field of sheep and an afternoon of canoeing in the rain just doesn’t compare to skiing, but whatever floats yer boat.


  18. Philapodia Says:

    Ah, first world problems…


  19. Woman in Stem Says:

    GRC in NH, non-air-conditioned school dorm in July = summer camp for adults. Didn’t like it as a kid, sure as hell not going back for more in my later years.


  20. drugmonkey Says:

    You people don’t like hiking? Weird.


  21. Dave Says:

    Swimming is very white, and has a long history of segregation (white only pools etc).


  22. Dave Says:

    Hiking is really boring. I don’t get it. It’s just walking. I would rather run.


  23. Grumble Says:

    “And yet your standard GRC does the same thing. Except you replace skiing the Rockies with hiking in the Appalachians.”

    Huh? The GRCs I’ve been to have not had the same sort of schedule that the Winter Brain conference has. Talks and posters are usually in the day and evenings are free, even when it’s in the mountains where there’s plenty of outdoor stuff to do. Maybe different GRCs have different formats?

    Anyway, a scientist’s trip to a conference is not a junket, which Webster’s defines as “a trip made by a government official and paid for by the public.” We are not government officials and therefore our trips cannot be described as junkets. Of course, you mean to apply the negative connotations of the word “junket” to trips to the Winter Brain conference. But scientists make connections at these meetings, learn new things, get inspired by others’ work, sell their own work, etc. That is not a poor use of taxpayer funds, even if some people might – gasp! – have fun during the meeting, too. (I’m actually not one of those people: not being a skier, I tend to actually get a lot of “real” work done during this meeting — locked in my room with my laptop all day long.)


  24. Most academic scientists *are* government officials. The exception is those at private universities and research institutes.


  25. MoBio Says:

    “Maybe different GRCs have different formats?”

    All the ones I attend are pretty intense with very little free time.

    Check out:

    I see talks from ~ 9 am until 9:30 with merely 2.5 hrs in the afternoon or a ‘break’.


  26. Dr Becca Says:

    The best part about hiking is the GORP.


  27. drugmonkey Says:

    “Merely 2.5 hours”??!!??


  28. Established PI Says:

    Keystone ski meetings are totally junkets. I happily take the free ski vacation but feel badly for the non-skiers who have to kill a big chunk of the day in the lodges. I love talking with my colleagues but I’d rather go on vacation with my family.

    I’d be happy with a meeting at an airport hotel: shortened travel time (getting to some of those thin-air locations is a drag), shortened meeting time. Give me talks all day, drinks and dinner in the evening (perhaps with a poster session, more drinks), and get me back home ASAP.


  29. jojo Says:

    Most meetings I’ve been to schedule all the hours except meals (though evening poster sessions and keynotes are always beer/wine fueled). Would be nice to have a little time to ski / hike / whatever.


  30. Dave Says:

    Didn’t know what GORP was. GORP = ‘Good Old Raisins and Peanuts’!!!

    Trailmix has some interesting vocab.


  31. Dave Says:

    Why would anyone not want to ski? Skiing is the best.


  32. drugmonkey Says:

    Is skiing “the best” for those who can’t afford $100+ lift tickets, $30 equipment rental and never had the socioeconomic geographical privilege to learn as a child?


  33. drugmonkey Says:

    In full disclosure, until they invent the Hockey Meeting, the Ski Meeting is right down my alley as the best meeting EVAH. But I’m not liking the optics these days….


  34. Established PI Says:

    Skiing is not the best for the unathletic, the scared, the handicapped and the old. Money issues aside, not everyone finds it sensible or enjoyable to rocket down snowy or icy slopes on a couple of long boards.


  35. Grumble Says:

    ” “Merely 2.5 hours”??!!?? ”

    Well, the Winter Brain has from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm (or something like that) free, so 2.5 hours free is nothing compared to that. The formats are really quite different. And I don’t think the GRCs I’ve been to have even had a whole 2.5 hour free period during the day every day – maybe there’s an afternoon off or something, but that’s it.


  36. GORP = ‘Good Old Raisins and Peanuts’!!!

    That is probably an etymological canard. No one really knows how it got called gorp, but it is probably not the backronym you cite. The OED says the most likely origin is an American slang verb from the early 1900s meaning “to gobble up”.


  37. Maybe I’ve been attending the wrong GRCs — mine seem to be held in the summer at various small colleges like Mount Holyoke and seem pretty barebones — we even stay in the (non air-conditioned) dorms.


  38. Busy Says:

    So if you are allowed to equate white with rich because the majority of wealthy people are, can we equate black with unemployed, or convicted felon because the majority of them are?

    What this highlights is that labels such as “white sport” introduce a framework of mind which verges in racism, and one should not use them willy nilly.


  39. Dave Says:

    Isn’t Keystone normally associated with skiing and not Gordon?


  40. MoBio Says:

    @ Grumble

    Here’s a typical daily WCBR schedule (not quite as you stated) with what I see is 6 hrs available each day for skiing (e.g. 9:30 am to 3:30 pm)

    7:30-9:30 am Panel Sessions
    3:30-4:30 pm View Exhibits & Poster Session II
    4:30-6:30 pm Panel Sessions
    7:00-8:30 pm Town Meeting
    7:00-8:30 pm Panel Sessions


  41. toto Says:

    Difficulty: attending said “ski meeting” with your Significant Other.

    (yes, I’m doing that this year…)


  42. toto Says:

    IMO, it only looks really bad if you attend *all* the ski-conferences in your field. “Why, yes, after all this physiology stuff at WBCR, I really need to back up with the theory at Cosyne…”


  43. Noncoding Arenay Says:

    Being one who does not ski, I dislike those ski conferences and have never attended one. However, if they were to offer snow tubing I’d enjoy that despite probably being the only young adult out there. But then, I’d get bored of it after a couple of hours, so what do I do for the remaining time? I guess I’ll continue to skip those conferences.


  44. Erik Says:

    I am a young investigator who is at Winter Brain now and have attended several GRCs in two subject areas in a variety of settings—from small college campuses with crappy cafeterias and group showers to the Swiss Alps. The Les Diablerets site in the Alps, which I assume is one of the most desired sites, is still in an isolated town, and conferences are not held during ski season. While Winter Brain includes an admittidely long ski break each day, I am experiencing a lot of great science this week! This is not a waste of time or money! Lodging is comparable to a conference in any city and everyone I know pays for the greatest expense (i.e., skiing) out of pocket. GRCs especially don’t belong in the ‘vacation conference’ conversation IMO. I personally think I assimilate more unpublished data—for which there is clear pressure to include—at the GRCs than any other conference I attend. I also network more at GRCs than at any other conference I attend, due to the secluded nature of the conference sites. As a young investigator who is not yet a member of study sections, I think the GRSs and GRCs offer an unrivaled opportunity to network and understand where the field is heading. Finally, turn out will always be better, especially for big names, at nice locations. If you really wanted to be a purist, you could eliminate all on-site conferences. Have you ever attended an ‘online’ conference though? That was a free waste of my time, which IMO is worth more than money anyway. Now I want to challenge you: Which conference is better for networking and viewing unpublished data than a GRC?


  45. DJMH Says:

    Of course, Appalachian hiking is not associated* with traumatic brain injury, so you’d think a bunch of neuroscientists might prefer GRC as a form of professional courtesy to their own brains.

    * Just with adulterous Republican governors, hopefully not a big part of GRCs either.


  46. drugmonkey Says:

    What this highlights is that labels such as “white sport” introduce a framework of mind which verges in racism, and one should not use them willy nilly.

    why don’t you visit a representative sample of ski areas and report back to us what you find before you start off with the nonsense.


  47. Busy Says:

    Your reply just reinforces my point. You could use the exact same argument to support calling all black convicted felons: “why don’t you visit a representative sample of prisons and report back to us what you find”.

    I don’t expect you to get it. Most people when caught using racist/semiracist statements come out all guns blazing and at best only with time do they come around and realize that “gee, maybe using so many black/white labels in an internalization of racism to begin with”.


  48. drugmonkey Says:

    so your point is that racist policing practices and disparate sentencing guidelines keep black folks off the slopes at Vail?


  49. Busy Says:

    My point is that calling a sport “white” when the distinction should actually be made on the basis of wealth considerations is in itself a dreg from our racist past.

    Many people peg me as German, yet I never skied growing up because we couldn’t afford it, just like all of my equally poor white and non-white classmates.

    So why throw the white label there? in what way does it enrich the conversation?

    Just some food for thought…


  50. cookingwithsolvents Says:

    @Dr Becca: those ‘no-break-go-go-go-GO’ meetings happen all the time. At least in my field. They are not fun. Neither are GRCs but at least you get some valuable networking and reconnecting in and see some stuff that isn’t published yet.


  51. @Erik
    Definitely the GRCs are great for networking precisely because there is nowhere to go typically. At a big conference in someplace nice like San Francisco or New Orleans, the BSDs and their entourages take off to dinner leaving us plebeians behind.


  52. Eli Rabett Says:

    FWIW GRCs started in boarding schools in NE. The GRC got cheap rates and the schools got to hold their employees over the summer.

    The funniest summer conference Eli ever attended was the Informal Photochemistry Conference (how it got that name is another story) at UMd. The high point was the poster session held in the non-air conditioned steam tunnel. After a few minutes the smarter grad students stripped down to their undershorts (the males) and the smarter amongst the onlookers ditched. Eli was not smart.


  53. anonymous postdoc Says:

    People like Busy who get all butthurt about conflating whiteness with wealth and privilege always miss the essential point that whiteness comes with privilege, even if you were or are broke, and comes with the potential for major increases in privilege should your financial situation improve. Like Busy, I grew up poor and white and certainly never skied*. I also grew up somewhere where being white is not the majority – bumping around the continental US in adulthood, I can say the white privilege is palpable, and here I can pass as cultured and “normal” as a simple accident of skin tone. Even if I don’t ski, someone will still take the time to suggest that I try it, implying that I would fit right in there. Skiing, like yachting or crew or lacrosse, are traditionally enjoyable activities of the white upper class in this country, and having important meetings centered on these kinds of activities sends a message that the real scientists are mostly white upper (middle) class and you had better fit in with that.

    * For me, ski meetings are always just an opportunity to experience days of altitude sickness and midafternoon boredom. Pls bring on the beach meetings.


  54. Philapodia Says:

    Bein’ tornado alley born ‘n raised m’self, I totally get it, AP! There should be meetings that serve PBR (or Bud if you’re keeping it classy) instead of wine and have seminars Nascar style (ie the audience sits on top of their campers and speakers drive past you so you don’t have to move).


  55. Busy Says:

    You are applying stereotypes here AP. I’m not in the least bit of offended or “butthurt” by the whiteness comment. My point is that the overuse of black/latino/white labels is in itself a bit racist.

    I mean, there are times and places where it is appropriate, for example, if we are discussing under-representation of minorities at a given university. But there are also times where the only reason we use them is because we have been keep tracking of blood lines for far too long.


  56. Busy Says:

    p.s. the original point from DM would have been better expressed as (borrowing most of your wording):

    Skiing, like yachting or crew or lacrosse, are traditionally enjoyable activities of the upper class in this country, and having important meetings centered on these kinds of activities sends a message that the real scientists are mostly upper (middle) class and you had better fit in with that.

    I have no issue with that sentiment stated this way.


  57. jmz4 Says:

    Sadly, Keystone has denied my repeated requests that they install a video arcade for the non-skiers. I mean, that’s a truly egalitarian activity.
    I do enjoy the skiing, but its f-ing tough to come back after hitting the slopes and pay attention to someone’s talk in a warm, dark room. I usually just book an extra day or two at the end of the trip (on me) and do it then.


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