10.30am finish, trip to Chianti, lunch on deck. It's a hard life

July 28, 2006

Our monthly guide to some of the conferences taking place around the world

Luxury liners, day trips, exotic locations. Summer conferences are as close as you get to a holiday, says Harriet Swain

This summer, a senior scientist from King's College London will make his way to the headquarters of Westminster City Council, just a short walk from his institution, past the buses that choke Whitehall and over the gridlock in Parliament Square. There, he will address fellow delegates at London's Transport Emissions Conference on the effects of diesel engine emissions on human health.

Perhaps, at some point during the afternoon, Ian Mudway, or one of his fellow conference-goers, may contemplate how different their August might have been had they chosen a different area of expertise - plastic surgery, say, or informatics.

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery holds its 18th congress this year in Rio de Janeiro. The World Scientific and Engineering Academy and Society holds its Applied Informatics and Communications conference in Crete. Details of the conference on its website are accompanied by breathtaking views of the island.

Then there is the Business and Economics Society International Conference, which seems to make a point of choosing thrilling locations. Last year, it was the Grand Canyon, next year it is the French Riviera. This year it is Florence.

With a pre-conference day-long excursion to Montepulciano and Pienza, a post-conference excursion to Arezzo, and trips to Lucca, Chianti, Siena, San Gimignano and Fiesole along the way, this is definitely a holiday-come-conference. Indeed, on one of the five days, conference business finishes at 10.30am.

While August marks a relatively quiet time in the conference season, it presents an opportunity for enterprising organisers to make discussions on valuing mortgage insurance seem as close to a holiday as you can get.

The most blatant example of this is Continuing Education Inc, a Florida-based company that offers "an extensive schedule of cruise conferences". Doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants and other professionals are given the chance to network and listen to expert speakers while taking in the sights from a luxury liner. They even gain accreditation for attending the conferences.

Hence, this July, David B. Doman, clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University, and Robert I. Goldberg, associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami, will address a group of gastroenterologists on a Mediterranean cruise lasting ten nights.

In early August, James Ehrlich, clinical assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, has organised a course for cardiologists and radiologists that takes place while cruising around Alaska.

The idea of on-board ship education has been around for a while. In the UK, Swan Hellenic has been organising "discovery travel" cruises since the 1950s. It invites academics and other experts to address tourists who want to feed their minds as well as their senses while they travel. Ian Beckett, professor of history at Northampton University, will be speaking on his 11th Swan Hellenic trip this year, sailing from Livorno in Italy via Naples, Tunisia and Dubrovnik to Venice.

He will give three or four talks on the cruise and accom-pany field trips ashore, especially if they involve battlefields, since military history is his speciality. He is also expected to be available during the trip if anyone wants to ask questions - and they usually do, he says.

He is able to bring his wife and he appreciates the fact that the people he is addressing - mainly in their sixties - are so well informed. "They are a very receptive audience - very unlike students," he says.

Beckett chooses which academic conferences to attend according to the subject rather than the location, although he admits that this can play a part. Usually, in early summer he attends the annual conference of the Society for Military History - very much his speciality. But this year it is in Manhattan, Kansas. "Who the hell has heard of Manhattan, Kansas? It's in the middle of nowhere. I chose not to bother this year," he says.

While Beckett is in the south of Italy, Angela Benson will be further north in Bologna, attending the Second International Conference on Sustainable Tourism. Benson, senior lecturer in tourism at Brighton University, was part of the international scientific advisory committee that helped to organise the conference, and says the location has to fulfil numerous needs, including being in an interesting location that attracts as many people as possible.

You could probably do a whole conference on the sustainability implications of academic conferences, she says, but, as yet, this is not the most important consideration. Ryanair is currently advertising flights to Bologna in September for 19p.

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