I recently received an invitation to a "U.S. Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium." I have to be honest, when I first received it, I kind of thought it was conference spam, but investigating further, I came around to thinking it seemed legit (in part because it is organized by NAS and they offered to pay expenses).

But "is a legitimate scientific activity" is a pretty low bar for deciding whether it is worth expending one's limited time to attend a conference (at some minor personal inconvenience), which at least for me is not obviously connected to my research or even necessarily my discipline. Does anyone here have experience with it? Are the talks interesting for outsiders to the disciplines? Is it actually a good networking opportunity? Is it the sort of thing I should be bragging to my dean about (I'm about to go up for tenure, so bragging rights are somewhat relevant)? Is it just sort of a glorified TED?

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    I don't really know about it, but the NAS backing is waaaay different from the status of TED. Also, the fact that as part of an "invitation" they offered to pay your expenses is different from nearly all marginal-or-worthless conferences. I'd guess that it'd be a modest networking help. An invitation with an offer of money is utterly different from an invitation without. Aug 22, 2015 at 20:20
  • @paulgarrett That's totally fair; obviously I was exaggerating a little about TED. But again, "a more serious scientific endeavor than TED" is a pretty low bar. There are lots of great and serious conferences that it still wouldn't make sense for me to attend. Aug 22, 2015 at 22:16

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Yes, it's definitely worth attending and you should mention it to your dean. (It's only a minor honor, but a minor honor is still worth highlighting.) I did this some years ago, and it was a great experience. Not particularly valuable for my research, but I met some fascinating people in other fields, some of whom I had more in common with intellectually than I had expected, and I learned many interesting things.

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    This experience might suggest to the OP that if attendance did not harm something else, by taking away time or energy, then it would be relatively worthwhile... I can imagine that I visualize the apparently eclectic atmosphere: in many ways irrelevant to one's highly focused work, but perhaps happy and upbeat more than many waaay-focused technical conferences. Given some suspicions that NAS is trying to generate a "brand", I'd be interested to hear how wholesome the thing might turn out to be. Aug 22, 2015 at 22:50

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