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?