Anyone who has attended any of the scientific sessions realizes very quickly that it is a marathon, not a sprint. We may have specific goals to accomplish while at the sessions so how can we make the most of our time? Although there is no one right answer, through my personal experience, I believe the following is a useful way to get started.
- Take a look ahead – The sessions are jam packed with several sessions occurring at the same time or in overlapping times. If you look at the program ahead of time, you will be able to better organize your time and prioritize what sessions are going to be most beneficial.
- Get the inside scoop – If you are a first-time attendee speak to your colleagues, faculty, and mentors who have attended scientific sessions about their experiences. By speaking to my mentors, I was able to get tips and tricks that helped me focus my energy on lectures that would be engaging and pushing myself to going to sessions that may be out of my comfort zone. Often, there are professional interest groups that you are able to attend to network or take a deep dive into specific topics.
- Look good…feel good – I cannot count amount of times I have been thankful for wearing business casual to semi-professional clothes. You will be surprised at how often you will run into program directors, researchers, investigators, or others that could serve as a mentor. I always wear a dress shirt, blazer, and slacks when I am attending the sessions. If I am presenting then I will always have a tie. Trust me gents, it goes a long way.
- Keeping it profession – To build on #3, keep plenty of business cards on hand. Each time I interact with anyone at the sessions, I give them my business card and ask for theirs. Fortunately, my fellowship provides me with business cards but if yours does not, you can easily make them at a low cost. I also then store the business cards in an app that helps keep them organized. This will help reach out to your network later and easily allow others to be able to reach you.
- Team building – It’s been a tradition for UMass to have a team dinner at any and all scientific sessions. It’s a great way to discuss our day, see what our colleagues are engaged in, and what we are looking to accomplish for the remainder of the sessions.
- Engage in tech – The sessions have several platforms to enhance the experience. Specifically, apps are created to help improve the experience, provide maps (very helpful if you’re not familiar with the venue), and allow you to create a schedule to stay organized. Twitter is becoming a fantastic modality to stay informed of the most recent trails, engaging small group talks, or networking opportunities.
- Network – The sessions are filled with a vast range of attendees. I always make an effort to introduce myself to anyone who is look at the same poster as me, sitting next to me at a session, or even getting coffee. Of course this requires us to get out of comfort zone but it becomes easier and incredibly fruitful.
- Stay hydrated – I always bring a water bottle with me to the sessions. You will be going from session to session and forget to take care of your needs. A protein bar is also a great idea and may hold you over until you get to a proper meal.
- Support your colleagues – If residents, fellows, or attendings are presenting at the sessions, I always try to make it. Not only does it give me a chance to engage in his/her research but also offers a chance to learn. We often are not familiar with the research our colleagues are undertaking but this gives the perfect opportunity to become more involved and potentially collaborate.
- Enjoy!! No matter what happens or how prepared you are, enjoy the energy surrounding the sessions. This is a time for you to get excited about science, clinical trials, and celebrate the success in our field. I always come away with more than when I first arrived and use this momentum to continue to progress in my career.
Attending scientific sessions is a time we get inspired, have renewed energy, and perhaps most importantly continue to grow professionally and personally. Hopefully gleaming from my experience will help enhance your own.
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Barinder Hansra, known as “Ricky” to his friends and family, is a physician-scientist-teacher living his best life at University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, MA. His focus is on cardiac critical care and cardio-obstetrics, and is headed to Stanford University for another fellowship. Follow on Twitter: @rickyhansra