Most scientist that are attending a conference are in one way or another funded by the tax payers so I think we have an obligation to make the most of any meeting we attend.
So what are some of the criteria that should be met? (in my opinion)
1 – Try to travel there at an economical rate: e.g. flying economy – not business or executive. And is there really a need for so many scientists to attend 10 to 20 conferences a year – how much new information can there be in a chosen scientific field (that couldn’t be read about in journals) if you are attending one or two conferences a month - talk about a large carbon footprint.
2 – Attend the conference (you would be surprised sometimes what percentage of conference sessions are attended by scientists). One example was for the opening of the most recent conference I attended (a very large one) I could not believe how many people were heading away from the conference center (they had picked up their badges etc) to tour the city instead of attending the conference.
3 – Try to take in the appropriate scientific information that is available at the conference (as an example there were over 15,000 posters and talks at the recent conference I attended), so there was more than enough for everybody special fancies and interests.
4 – Present your recent scientific work to the scientific community honestly and frankly – warts and all (don’t just try to present a tidied up story).
I am sure I and others could add more, but I think this is a minimal level.
Additionally, for my personal check list my main goal at a meeting is to acquire enough scientific information that I am able to generate a new idea/scientific experiment of worthwhile quality (or at least it at least seems new to me – though others might have thought of it before).
In my most recent meeting despite having picked out and read over 500 abstracts (most of them several times to try to find a common theme among the divergent stories) and closely examining approximately 150 posters/talks at the meeting I failed to come up with a worthwhile new idea (sure I came up with plenty of ideas but not that I would judge as good enough to pass my criteria). I personally failed the taxpayers in my mind. I have no excuse. This led me to feeling pretty depressed at the end of the conference when I realized my failure (this is the first conference this has happened to me).
Scientists try to be responsible with your use of tax payers money at meetings, and all of your other scientific endeavors