Reflections and Projections: An Interview Post a Virtual Conference

As many of us know and have experienced by now, the 2020 global pandemic has forced most conferences to cancel, postpone, or alter their planned in-person settings. For meetings that opted to switch these important gatherings to a brand new all-virtual format, many challenges were faced, but also new opportunities to re-invent the conference experience have sprouted. In my personal perspective, I continued to see rapid evolution and advancement of the virtual format setting of such meetings, from the early days of the pandemic in the spring to the most recent conference I participated in, which just happens to be the biggest meeting in the cardiovascular field, the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. Earlier, I wrote a couple of blogs describing my experience at #AHA20 (you can read them here: “The Year #Virtual became #Reality”, and “Lurking: The Art of Passive Learning in Meetings”)

Today though, instead of my thoughts, I wanted to interview someone that has even more insight and know-how with AHA meetings, and therefore can really speak to the differences (and opportunities) that make this year a unique conference experience. My guest for this post-conference interview is Dr. Sean Wu, MD. PhD., a physician-scientist at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. He is also the current Chair of the Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS) Early Career Committee, and a long time active member of the AHA and BCVS council. Sean and I work together within the BCVS community, and we’re both big fans of using social media to communicate science, and promote networking (you can follow Sean on Twitter here, and the BCVS Early Career Committee here).

This transcript is a lightly edited version of the interview we conducted on webcam, shortly after the end of #AHA20.

Mo: Let’s start with a big-picture view of the meeting. Could you tell us how the overall experience was like in your viewpoint, given that this year’s #AHA20 was a virtual conference?

Sean: The AHA meeting has given us a taste for what’s to come in the future. Clearly many have seen positives from this format: easy tracking and joining of sessions; rewatch or catch-up of missed sessions; ease of asking questions using chat boxes instead of physically asking questions on the mic in a room. However, certainly, there is a reduction in the networking potential, but continued innovation and offering of social networking sessions, such as BCVS Early Career Social at #AHA20, can replace some of those missed opportunities.

Mo: Share with us one of the sessions that most interest you at #AHA20, and tell us a little bit about why it was a highlight for you?

Sean: There were so many great sessions, it is hard to pick just one of course. Certainly, a session that garnered attention and featured a lot of the up-and-coming areas of science was called “Cardio-Oncology, Meet Your New Neighbour: Immunology”. This session was a highlight for many reasons, such as the ability to combine multiple disciplines such as cancer disease and therapy, cardiovascular disease and research, as well as the fundamental mechanisms of immunology that tie these diseases and require novel research approaches and future therapy options.

Mo: Considering the format change in 2020, conference planning and attending has gone through a lot of innovative changes. What role do you see social media playing in complementing the experiences of a virtual setting meeting?

Sean: Definitely social media has changed multiple aspects within our scientific community. On social media, the democratic stage allows voices from all levels of the community to interact and discuss openly just published research being shared online. Discussions spark and propel future research avenues. When it comes to the virtual format of conferences presently, social media chats, specific hashtags, and the resulting impressions and other metrics have increased significantly compared to previous years, continuing the upward slope of gain that social media involvement has in the scientific communities that populate it.

Mo: Some of the advantages of virtual meetings include ease of access, lower financial commitments, and increased diversity of participants. Would you say these advantages are enough for you to recommend this experience to trainees and early career professionals?

Sean: At the present moment, and in a future where virtual conferences are the only options, the recommendation is for sure to join in and participate, because the knowledge gained and evolving networking avenues are still very relevant and important to have, This is especially vital at the trainee and early career level in science, which typically has limited potential for interaction outside the requirements of pushing research forward. Additionally the ability to have more global participation in meetings that can bring scientists that otherwise would have been too geographically far, and/or face financial difficulty to make it to the meeting, for them to be part of the gathering is a definite advantage of virtual meeting formats.

Mo: In your viewpoint, what are some of the high-value components to add when a conference planning committee is set to organize a future science meeting?

Sean: One of the most important aspects of science meetings is promoting networking opportunities, especially for the early-career scientists attending those meetings. These types of networking sessions can be designed as mixers/socials, or more structured mentoring/advice panel discussions. These sessions are extremely valuable components of a scientific meeting. Another type of session that would be very beneficial to have is something designed to illustrate or highlight “New Frontiers” or new advances in the field. This is one of the most anticipated aspects of a meeting, where scientists get exposed to novel tools, new scientific approaches, and integration of the latest technology into one’s area of research.

I’d like to thank Dr. Sean Wu for sharing his memories (reflections) and future thoughts (projections), stemming from the recent conclusion of #AHA20. In science and medicine, as is with so many other fields, we continue to adapt to the changing landscape of our professional careers. Virtual meetings were new to us in 2020, but with continued innovation and trial, we will integrate this novel approach and utilize it to continue advancing our fields.


“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.”


A New Way To Participate

One of the characteristics of attending medium to large scientific sessions is the time-honored act of… running from room to room trying to catch glimpses of talks that interested you, but have of course ended up in different rooms, minutes apart. Many of us have done this, and to an extent, I don’t mind it! I can always count on being able to reach my daily step count targets whenever I’m attending a conference, without needing to set aside 30mins dedicated to a walk or morning run.

The current global health crisis has ushered in new and accelerated inevitable changes in the way science research is conducted, disseminated, and discussed within the community. Each one of these aspects has shown the malleable and highly valued ability for science, and society, to adapt to new paradigms of work. There have been many challenges and losses in the way research has been affected (a partial or total work-from-home status doesn’t translate to equal productivity for lab based work). But at the same time, this ongoing pandemic response has also provided a launching pad for some very innovative and future friendly adjustments.

Today I’ll focus on one of those changes, related specifically to conference attendance. This is by no means a novel idea, but I find myself thinking a lot about it, and I’d like to share some of those thoughts. Online based conferences have existed before Covid-19 became a house-hold idea and reality. Even more novel are Social Media “conferences”, an example being the Royal Society of Chemistry putting on the #RSCPoster Twitter Conference earlier this year (planned in early 2019, before covid).

The fact of the matter is, the movement to have scientific meetings and conferences be better adjusted within the online space has been gathering momentum for years. I for one, have served as “Twitter Ambassador” for a handful of conferences over the past couple of years, because conference organizers, participants, and various communities, have found tangible and positive effects of having conferences be more open, interactive, and far-reaching, beyond the walls of the hotel or center that brings together the in-real-life attendees.

(photo taken by Mo Al-Khalaf, 2020)

This year the Basic Cardiovascular Sciences headline annual meeting, better known this week as #BCVS20 is a fully virtual conference. As an early career molecular biologist researching mechanisms of heart disease, this is one of the “can’t miss” events on my calendar. My previous experiences for these type of conferences has been very rewarding, and advantageous in propelling my research and career. Before Covid-19, I was very much looking forward to this meeting scheduled to be in Chicago. When it was announced that the meeting will become fully virtual, I knew that there will be some experience that’ll get lost in the format change. But I also appreciated the diligent and effective leadership that made this call, because this was definitively the right call, for the safety of the attendees, and all the workers that would be involved in administering and pulling off a successful meeting (a meeting that brings 1000+ folks, in one building for a few days).

So far, I must say I find the #BCVS20 experience to be quite rewarding. It is different, and the limited and reformatted ways of networking and engagement takes a little bit of time to get used to. But overall, I believe there is great potential to make this format, or better yet, a hybrid format where both online and in-real-life parallel options available, a very appealing and appropriate next step in the evolution of how these types of meetings can be conducted. The ability to cater to a worldwide audience, and the convenience provided to allow attendees to participate and learn from field experts without the difficulty of planning a trip, is without a doubt an advantage to students and early career professionals, who do frequently face difficulties in attending such meetings.

One thing I note: Unlike past conference going experiences, I definitely need to put in the 30-minute daily jog before or after the day’s sessions… because there is no need to run from room to room to catch talks that you’re interested in… it’s all just a mouse click or head turn to a second screen away!

“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.”


Conferences in the Time of COVID

As with pretty much everything else, conference season is going to look a lot different from last year due to COVID-19. Conferences have already switched gears to go completely virtual to meet this challenge but still give scientists the opportunity to share their work with the world. Initially, I was a little bummed about the need to switch meetings to a virtual format — but I then realized that there are also some really great advantages to this situation.

As a new mother, I had already resigned myself that I wouldn’t really be able to participate much in conferences this year, but now that has completely changed. I’m actually going to attend three meetings, including the AHA BCVS conference in July, which I am really excited about. While it would be great to see everyone in person and I know that it won’t completely be the same without the social interactions many of us look forward to, the virtual format provides science opportunities to many that otherwise would have missed out. It’s important in this strange time to celebrate the positives. To get more insight on how to make the best of a virtual meeting, check out fellow blogger Shayan Mohammadmoradi’s latest piece — it’s filled with great tips!

In addition to conferences going virtual, seminars at universities and professional organizations have done the same thing. Once it was apparent that COVID-19 was changing the face of the world, The International Society for Heart Research quickly organized a virtual seminar series that has been keeping researchers from all over the world updated on the latest science. Check out the schedule here to attend any meeting you want via zoom from your home!

If you are planning a meeting, going completely virtual may seem like a daunting task, but since so many have started to work out the kinks to the online format, it’s becoming easier to find resources to help you make the event a success. Additionally, before COVID-19 took hold, many scientists were already pushing the community to move to a virtual system to combat climate change, so this switch may have been inevitable. Online meetings can be just as enriching as the in-person events that we are used to — we just have to keep an open mind.

“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.”


BCVS 2019 Put Early Career Investigators at the Forefront

Attending conferences can feel overwhelming for young scientists because there’s a lot expected from us at these events — we’re supposed to learn the latest science, present our own work and make connections with potential collaborators or future employers.

It’s a lot.

Luckily, many meetings are building resources into the actual conference programming to help early career scientists with these daunting tasks. I was happy to see last week when I attended the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS) conference, that the program was sprinkled with a multiple sessions specifically tailored for young scientists.

Attendees during the Early Career Investigator Social Event at AHA’s BCVS 2019 conference. Photo by © AHA/Todd Buchanan 2019

Attendees during the Early Career Investigator Social Event at AHA’s BCVS 2019 conference. Photo by © AHA/Todd Buchanan 2019.

Two sessions in particular called “Oh All the Places You Can Go … With a Degree” and “What I Wish My Mentor/Mentee Told Me” were a welcome change from the rest of the conference — and they were actually helpful.

Both events were career development panels, but they each had their own twist.

The “Oh All the Places You Can Go … With a Degree” panel had professors, a grant writer/instructor at a large cardiovascular institute and an industry scientist. The panelists’ diverse backgrounds and experiences allowed for an engaging discussion about the most effective way to start searching for a job, especially if you’re not looking to go the traditional academia route. This was particularly welcome since the chance of young scientists landing an academic position is insanely low. Young scientists need to be prepared for this environment.

During the “What I Wish My Mentor/Mentee Told Me” session, graduate students, postdocs and faculty talked about the academic side of mentoring — how to find a good mentor, how to be a good mentor and what to do if problems arise. Overall, I thought this session was interesting but most of the questions were geared towards the professor’s perspective. Also, it quickly became apparent that the participating professors were the actual mentors of the trainees on the panel, so it didn’t seem like an environment where the trainees could be completely honest about their work experiences because their bosses were sitting right next to them.

Both sessions were really well attended with almost every seat filled. I’m really excited to see events like these at future BCVS conferences and it seems like I’m not the only one.




Scientific Sessions 2018 – You Should Be Here!

This year I decided to attend American Heart Association Sessions in Chicago rather than online as I did last year. This meeting was not for the faint at heart. There were sessions for everyone. So much so that people were packed in meeting halls with overflow standing around hoping to get a glimpse of the happenings from the doorway. I, on the other hand, went to #AHA18 armed with a schedule and the determination to follow it strictly. My day started with media meetings to hear about any breaking news and novel findings. After, there were meetings all day covering hypertension, mental disorders, diabetes, and more. The vast amount of science being presented necessitated variety of disorders covered in each session with only an underlying commonality. Even as I went on the floor to experience the trade show, not only were there vendors chatting to the attendees about the products represented by each company, but also sessions ranging from clinical trials to device utilization in patient care.

Being that all the official AHA Early Career Bloggers are members of different AHA Councils, we do not always get the opportunity to meet. This was the first opportunity I have had to meet a large number of my blogging colleagues as well as AHA staff that I correspond via email. Initially walking through the McCormick Center looking for meeting halls, I was overwhelmed. To be able to network with such an impressive crowd sparked apprehensions. Then I remembered I was armed with my schedule and would to follow it without deviation; from meeting key opinion leaders to reconnecting with my network and potentially making more connection. Learning how to navigate though a conference as massive as this through going to Experimental Biology. All those previous sessions allowed me to navigate #AHA18 successfully. I look forward to another productive day of learning and networking here in Chicago.

You should be here!



Growing My Network at BCVS18

Basic Cardiovascular Science 2018 (BCVS18) Scientific Sessions was held in San Antonio this year. I had no initial intention on attending BCVS18, but there was an email notification urging members to participate in a tweeting competition. A Researcher from University of Tennessee Health Science Center challenged me to participate in the competition to try to win one of the two prizes, which ultimately led to my attending the session to assist with social media coverage of the programs. Although I took part in the tweet storm, I was not in the running for the prize. We thought it best to leave those for another researcher.

As with most meetings, this gave me the opportunity to reconnect with people that I had previously met as well as receive career guidance. This meeting was different for me in the respect that, in addition to diving into the science aspect, I actively sought out vendors from organizations of interest to me as a means of gaining insight into transitioning from academic research to industry. This is often an underexplored opportunity at meetings. As a scientist, I spend most of my time going to scientific sessions and poster sessions, and only visit the vendors that I need to meet with to purchase equipment/products or get information about equipment/products that are currently in use in the lab. BCVS is a smaller meeting with fewer vendors allowing more opportunity to go to sessions, as well as spend time gathering career information. I met with people from three noteworthy organizations.

  1. Kara Keehan, Executive Editor for AJP-Heart and Circulatory Physiology took several moments to share with me ways to interact more openly as an introvert. Often times introverted people are perceived as being standoffish or anti-social, but in reality, may just be uncomfortable in social or unfamiliar settings. Kara shared with me some strategies to mingle in social and professional settings to increase my ability to network. For example, walk up to someone and start talking about the last session or Twitter. Additionally, she gave me some insight into the role of an editor and the requirements.
  2. I have become increasingly more interesting in Medical Science Liaison (MSL) positions. Having the ability to be connected to the science and share the information in a way that will help people life a healthier life has resonated with me on many levels. However, understanding how to translate an academic research background into one that will be appealing to recruiters in the industry has proven to be difficult. George Ruth III, Sale Consultant at Pfizer, gave me ample amount of guidance on creating a resume that will catch the eye of the human resource personnel that will be looking to fill those positions. Searching the career website is not always as clear as one would hope, thus George also gave advice on how to identify positions of an MSL with a pharmaceutical company.
  3. Chandler Dental Center came to BCVS to share information about “Oral Systemic Health Services” for patients struggling with inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease. His booth had information about The Heart Gene and articles to support studies that suggest a link between dental health and vascular health. In our one-on-one dialog, he suggested that 78% of people suffering from myocardial infarctions had bacteria in their thrombus that were specific to the mouth. As a dentist, he can take saliva samples and test for the bacterial strain for early detection and treatment, leading to subsequent offset of CVD symptoms. This conversation reiterated the point that physicians rely on scientist to assist in conducting studies that are otherwise not feasible. Thus, Bryce (dentist) works in concert with Bradley Bale (clinical assistant professor) School of Medicine, Texas Tech Health Sciences Center to conduct the cardio-dental research.

When going to a conference, one should take advantage of the total experience. Do not get caught up in only one portion of the meeting. Yes, the science is important, but networking and looking out for the next career step is equally as important. Was it Darwin that said, “Chance favors a prepared mind?”


Leave a comment or tweet @AnberithaT and @AHAMeetings if you have questions or are interested in a specific topic. Also, follow me and @American_Heart for more #HeartSmart information.


Anberitha Matthews, PhD is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis TN. She is living a dream by researching vascular injury as it pertains to oxidative stress, volunteers with the Mississippi State University Alumni Association, serves as Chapter President and does consulting work with regard to scientific editing.


Put Me In, Coach!

My family goes through the same motions every Thanksgiving: Mash the potatoes. Carve the turkey. Hang the “house divided” flag above the front porch and howl at figures on television colliding bodies over a wayward pigskin. This Thanksgiving weekend coincided with the greatest college rivalry football games of the year for us. My mom attended the University of Louisville and my dad is a proud University of Kentucky alumnus – victory in the battle of the bluegrass is as sweet and as savored as the last slice of pumpkin pie. I went to a liberal arts school; I’m exempt from choosing a side.

Thanksgiving and The Big Game followed shortly after the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, an experience that supplied my football-loving family with robust dinner discussions as we feasted on creamy, roasted, gravy-drenched fares. What better place to ponder heart health than when seated before a minefield of artery-clogging treats? The beautiful irony is that AHA had some things in common with my holiday weekend. That convention center in Anaheim felt like a pep rally – the crowds, the lively conversations, the comradery—but like we were all rooting for the same team.

Tens of thousands of people congregated at Sessions, each with their own position in the lineup, all working to tackle cardiovascular disease. I’m a member of the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS), and I was drafted into my lab to advance our scientific understanding of cardioprotection. My basic science colleagues gave excellent talks at the conference. They demonstrated the advances made in our field by harnessing the powers of bioengineering, gene editing, and cell and tissue culture to discover new drugs, personalize treatments, and model, predict, or diagnose disease. I thought the basic science sessions, as always, were incredible. Indeed, there is tremendous value in foundational, translational research to solve the world’s toughest challenges in cardiovascular disease.

However, AHA is made of many Councils, and the week in Anaheim offered an opportunity to venture beyond my comfort level and learn of the advances in other research circles. When I arrived at Scientific Sessions, I was concerned that I would fumble through the clinical seminars. I’ve always admired the work of clinicians in my field, but I was anxious that their Sessions would go over my head, the equivalent of sitting in a class after skipping the prerequisites. Boy, was I wrong. The clinical seminars were among the most captivating events of the conference! In the Late-Breaking Science: Innovative Therapies and Novel Applications session, I heard updates on a device to shunt blood between the atria, neurotoxin injections that might calm a quivering heart, and tiny, powerful lipid bubbles called exosomes to ease the scars and maladaptive muscle wall changes of cardiovascular events in select patients’ hearts. These sessions deeply moved and inspired me, as I understood very clearly in that moment that, in fact, we were all working toward the same goal. These were my allies. My friends. My teammates.

This blog is where the football analogies end for me, and these days, I spend far more time in the lab than I do watching sports anyway. I just want to emphasize how Scientific Sessions made me feel like I was standing in the nose-bleed section with a clear view of the hypothetical game. I could see how the work we are doing in our labs at the kickoff could potentially push all the way through to a touchdown in the clinic’s end zone. It made me feel like I was part of something much larger than myself. I boarded the plane to Chicago fired up with “team spirit,” eager to don my uniform (er, lab coat…) and get back in the game. Go team!

See AHA’s recommendations on what to do with your halftime snacks.

Annie Roessler Headshot

Annie Roessler is a PhD Candidate at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. Her research focuses on the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of electrically-induced cardioprotection. She tweets @ThePilotStudy and blogs at flaskhalffull.com