AHA20 Scientific Sessions From the Perspective of a New Attendee

I was overwhelmed when I attended Scientific Sessions for the first time last year. There were thousands of participants and dozens of sessions occurring simultaneously in a very large convention center. It was challenging to try to attend all of the sessions that I was interested in. I was frequently disoriented in the large convention center. Coordinating central meeting spots with colleagues was difficult. Although AHA20 is virtual this year, seeing the vast number of sessions available covering many important topics can still be overwhelming, especially to a first-time attendee. As I mentioned in my last blog, trying to prioritize live events over OnDemand events may help keep you engaged during the conference.

For this blog, I wanted to feature the perspective of Javier E. Sierra-Pagan, a first-time attendee of Scientific Sessions. Javier is an F30-funded medical scientist (MD/PhD) trainee (who is in his 5th year in the program, 3rd year as a PhD student) at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He is currently studying mechanisms of cardiovascular development and regeneration. He is interested in Cardiology. I am fortunate to work at the same research institute as Javier and have his lab bench next to mine!

Question: What are you looking forward to at AHA Scientific Sessions this year? Any specific events that you are interested in?

Javier: I’m really looking forward to listening to good talks regarding cardiovascular development and disease. Given the current pandemic, I am particularly interested in any talks regarding SARS-CoV-2 and its implications on cardiovascular disease. As a young trainee, I’m interested in attending some of the networking events to get to know more individuals in my field of research. 

Question: How has your experience with AHA Scientific Sessions been so far?

Javier: It has been great so far. I felt a little overwhelmed at the beginning with how big this conference is, but after setting my agenda and identifying good talks to attend to, I felt more comfortable and very excited about Scientific Sessions.

Question: How are you preparing for AHA Scientific Sessions?

Javier: I’m approaching Scientific Sessions with an open mind. It is my first time attending it and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from both basic science, as well as clinical medicine. The benefit of having such a big conference is that I can learn a little bit from so many different areas in the field of cardiology. 

Question: How has COVID-19 affected your research?

Javier: The pandemic has put a lot of stress on everybody for sure. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was fortunate to be primarily focused on writing and submitting a manuscript, which allowed me to work from home. Now we are in a different situation entering November. I am working more hours in the laboratory and trying to stay safe while also maintaining my productivity. I haven’t had any significant setbacks with regards to my thesis, but I did want to attend some conferences in the Spring that were ultimately canceled because of COVID-19.

Question: Anything else you want to add?

Javier: I look forward to attending more AHA meetings in the future (hopefully in person) and interacting with colleagues from the field. I definitely miss the scientific conversations that happen in the hallways or in the elevators when you are trying to get to a lecture room. 

Thank you, Javier, for discussing your experience with other trainees!

Remember that you can watch all of the OnDemand AHA20 content until January 4, 2021, which can help relieve the stress of cramming in as many sessions as possible into 5 days. If you are an early career investigator or trainee and would like to be featured in one of my upcoming monthly blogs, please let me know (you can message me on Twitter or email me at szprisco@umn.edu)!


“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”