UCSD started one of the first (the first?) computational neuroscience departments. But when I started graduate school there, it was being folded into the general Neuroscience department; now it is just a specialization within the department. Why? Because we won. Because people who used to be computational neuroscientists are now just – neuroscientists. I could tell there was a change at UCSD when people trained in electrical engineering instead of biology didn’t even feel the need to join the specialization. What used to be a unique skill is becoming more and more common.
I have been thinking about this for the last few days after news trickled out about acceptances and rejections at Cosyne (note: I did not submit an abstract to the Cosyne main meeting.) The rejection rate this year was around 40%. Think about this for a minute: nearly half of the people who had wanted to present what they had been working on to their peers were not able to do so.
Now, people go to conferences for a wide variety of reasons. Some go to socialize, some to hear talks, some for a vacation. But the most important reason is to communicate your new research to your peers. And it’s a serious problem when half of the community just can’t do that.
Cosyne fills the very important role of bringing together the Computational and Systems fields of neuroscience (hence, CoSyNe). But when it was founded in 1996, this was not a big group of people. Perhaps the field has just gotten too big to accommodate everyone in one, medium sized conference; either the conference must grow or people need to flee to more specialized grounds – and repeat the process of growth and rebirth.
At dinner recently, I mentioned that it may be time for some smaller conferences to split off from Cosyne. Heads nodded in agreement; it’s not just me being contrary. There are other computational conferences – CNS, NIPS, SAND, RLDM. But none of them reside in the niche of Cosyne, none of them bring together experimentalists and theorists in the same way. The closest is RLDM which occupies a kind of intersection of Cosyne and Machine Learning. (edit: there is also CodeNeuro, though I don’t yet have a sense of the community there.)
We need more of that.