I am currently working on the program side of extramural research at the NIH. Our research program is a very small and narrow field (i.e. chemical defense/counterterrorism research and development), so we are limited in the number of researchers that are interested in our program. This really is not a research field that will lead to a lot of high profile publications and recognition. Anyway, each year we sponsor an annual symposium to bring all of our funded researchers (and a couple of their guests) together so that they can present results to each other with hopes that this would spur future collaborative efforts. As part of this symposium, we also have a travel awardee program where we fully sponsor both travel and lodging expenses of young investigators (e.g. post-docs, graduate students, post-graduates, etc.) to attend the annual meeting.
Anyway, my question to the group is, do you feel a poster award competition (opened only to these travel awardees due to logistical reasons) is a good or even useful way to attract young scientists into this (or any) particular field of research? There is no cash prizes, only a plaque of recognition for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. We would love to hear from everyone, including established and early career scientists in both academia, industry, and government as well as post-docs, graduate/undergraduate students, post-graduates, etc. How do (did) you feel about poster competitions? Worthwhile, useless, etc.?
Any suggestions or other ways to attract young investigators to continue (or enter) into a narrow field?
I would think the fact that you providing travel support and symposium is already the biggest incentive. In my opinion, adding a competition to the poster session is counterproductive. I see a lot of poster sessions and none of them have been competitive beyond the HS Science Fair level.
I imagine most of the young scientists you are bringing in are working in fields that are similar, but not directly related. It might help to make the symposium more of a summer school, so that the researchers can get more of the background information they need in the field. Attending the "Summer School" would be a more active credential they could carry forward. There could be a career fair aspect with listings of post docs and positions around the country that are available.
It is also nice for grad students/post docs to see the paths available to them if they select this field with examples of people that went from interested generic synthetic organic grad student to NIH Chem Defense Post Doc to Government Lab/Government Agency (i'm just guessing).
I work on the ACS Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy Summer School. Grad students and post docs apply competitively for slots in our summer school. If they get in, we provide travel support, food and the rest.
Information on the program at http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_SUPERARTICLE&node_id=1441&use...
Although perhaps this doesn't address your question about a poster competition per se, having representatives from other government agencies that are working on similar topics (DHS, FBI, parts of DOE) be present at the symposium to offer discussion, different perspectives, and perhaps encouragement to the presenters, might also be a way to encourage young scientists to pursue this field.