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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.”

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A Framework for Going to Professional Conferences & Meetings

During my graduate education years, my understanding and focus on attending conferences was almost exclusively centered on two priorities:

  1. Learning about the science happening in my area of interest, and the surrounding research that can complement and elevate my present projects.
  2. Being able to participate (via poster or a short talk) and deliver a useful and potentially distinguished presentation at the conference.

This is pretty much the default priority list for any grad student – not just in biomedical science, but this accurately applies to all academic fields. In fact I’d argue these are basically all that’s needed and required by students being exposed to academic conferences. Professional meeting events come with relatively steep learning curves when students are first experiencing them. Major conferences are (mostly, but not always) held in cities/towns that attendees don’t reside in, so the difficulty of housing, scheduling food, sleep and even clothing choices all come into play.

Unfamiliar surroundings and temporary changes in daily rhythms can lead to elevated stress levels; an effect called allostatic1 load, with measurable biological changes previously reported2, like elevated cortisol and Interlukin-1β levels measured from human salivary samples. Packed conferences potentially strain mental and emotional health, with the cognitive (over)loading that comes from the equivalent of attending a dozen classes (sessions) back-to-back, then doing it all over again the next day and so on, depending on how long the conference is.

These conference days are as demanding as can be, especially for the lesser experienced graduate students. Thankfully, none of what is mentioned here is presently unknown, denied, or ignored. These days enough writing3 exists, reporting all of these observations, sometimes in scientifically quantifiable4 and systematically assessed5 studies. Efforts towards counteracting these difficulties are now discussed, advised, and hopefully even the most ambitious and keen grad students are finding ways to mitigate and avoid negative experiences. Being a scientist in the cardiovascular field, I’ll emphasize two quick notes, extremely obvious, but worth highlighting whenever possible:

  1. Physical endurance is an undervalued factor in conference attendance, a lot of calories are getting burned moving from session to session, participating in posters/presentations, meeting people and asking questions – so it’s vital to learn, mind and strategize your conference attendance to best fit your physical endurance status
  2. What you eat matters (always!) and will affect every aspect of your time at the conference (too much/not enough coffee, too much/too little food intake during the conference, healthy vs. unhealthy available options), so again mind and strategize the food/drink variables as part of the overall conference equation.

With repetition and understanding of the general framework of conference proceedings, many of the initial difficulties and trip-ups become learned experiences, allowing attendees to become more comfortable and capable navigators of these unusual few days. This could and does happen sometimes in later grad-school years (senior PhD students, for example), but I’ll focus on the category of attendees that I myself now have become part of the early career professionals and AHA Early Career Blogger. Being in my third year of a postdoctoral fellowship in biomedical research, I’ve been to enough conferences to have a sense of the invisible “skeleton” of conferences. I can identify where the differences between various conferences exist, and where the similarities lie. I’ve learned to gauge how to pack for conferences (if at all possible, avoid checking in luggage! Pack clothing that best represents your professional ambitions. Comfortable shoes are a life saver!), how to navigate the sessions, what to eat and what to avoid. Of course there is no set formula to any of this, trial and error is the most used approach, and sharing experiences can be beneficial (at least that’s my hope in writing this piece!).

I’ll also highlight that for early career professionals, additional priorities/requirements emerge to be added to the original grad-school stage list of goals (namely: learning new information in the field, and fulfilling the level of participation duties offered when registering for the event, like poster or slide presentations). These new aspects are:

  • Networking, which I’ll define here as establishing professional lines of communication that can be of benefit in building, and maintaining relationships with others to advance professional goals. This is a valuable advanced priority in conference attendance, but I do want to emphasize that it shouldn’t be a requirement within the early stages of conference participation, since at the beginning, conferences can be overwhelming without the additional stress of having to do expert-level professional socializing!
  • The newest emerging priority I’ve added to my conference attendance efforts is discovering new elements, sufficiently outside the main field you’re involved in, that can enhance and elevate work/career forward. What I mean by that, being a biomedical research scientist, is seeking sessions in the program that address topics not directly related to: Heart Failure, genomic stability, inflammation, and similar keywords that relate to research my group and I work on. The new elements for me include things like: science communication, social media engagement, scientific advocacy, linking scientists to policy makers; and many other examples of topics that exist around health and scientific research but are not necessarily done in a lab or hospital setting.

Conferences, professional meetings, symposiums, and all types of organized events that occur within professional settings are designed to deliver a large impact to the attendees in a short period of time. Maximizing an individual’s professional development from these settings is key, understanding how to do so requires planning, optimization and gained experience from multiple trials. As with everything else in life, it takes one step at a time.

 

References:

  1. McEwen, Bruce S., and Ilia N. Karatsoreos. “Sleep deprivation and circadian disruption: stress, allostasis, and allostatic load.” Sleep medicine clinics1 (2015): 1-10.
  2. Auer, Brandon J., et al. “Communication and social interaction anxiety enhance interleukin-1 beta and cortisol reactivity during high-stakes public speaking.” Psychoneuroendocrinology94 (2018): 83-90.
  3. Elfering, Achim, and Simone Grebner. “Getting used to academic public speaking: Global self-esteem predicts habituation in blood pressure response to repeated thesis presentations.” Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback2 (2012): 109-120.
  4. Lü, Wei, et al. “Extraversion and cardiovascular responses to recurrent social stress: effect of stress intensity.” International Journal of Psychophysiology131 (2018): 144-151.
  5. Ebrahimi, Omid Vakili, et al. “Psychological interventions for the Fear of Public Speaking: a Meta-analysis.” Frontiers in Psychology10 (2019): 488.

 

Acknowledgement:

Extended gratitude goes to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Librarian: Sarah Visintini, MLIS for assistance in compiling primary material sources in this article. Twitter @SVisin

 

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.

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What to expect at Joint Hypertension 2018 Scientific Sessions – Treating Hypertension in 2018

Two AHA Councils, the Council on HAHA|ASH Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2018ypertension and the Council on Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease, have joined forces with the American Society of Hypertension to make Joint Hyptertension 2018 Scientific Sessions (#Hypertension18) among the most impactful. Dr. Karen Griffin, FAHA Vice Chair for the Council on Hypertension Scientific Sessions Planning Committee calls it the “premier scientific meeting on hypertension in the world”. Understandably so; it boast experts from areas of cardiorenal disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and genetics to make for a vast cross-disciplianry session with the up-to-date information on hypertension. This year’s meeting received 439 abstracts in 37 categories, over 125 expert peer reviewers, and more than 20 countries represented.

There will be several interactive sessions that will target the established researcher/clinician, early career, and everything in between. With the addition of the new concurrent session D-Track, Clinical Practice Clinical Science and Primary Care tracks, a dimension will be added for elucidate the research science/clinical practice as it relates to patient care. In light of all the sessions that are available one should not have a problem reaching the milestones set by the program coordinators (infra vide).

To point out a few conference highlights, there will be 24 oral sessions, 3 poster sessions, and travel award talks:

The Excellence Award for Hypertension Research (Saturday, September 8, 2018)

  • R. Clinton Webb, PhD, FAHA presents “A Study of the Innate Immune Response in Hypertension”
  • Paul K. Whelton, MB, MD, MSc, FAHA presents “Clinical Trials and Practice Guidelines: Evidence-Based Progress in Lowering Blood Pressure”

Conference Awards

  • 10 Council on Hypertension New Investigator Travel Awards
  • 10 Council on Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease New Investigator Awards
  • 4 New Investigator Travel Awards
  • 6 Hypertension Early Career Oral Award Finalists
  • 12 AFHRE Travel Award for Patient-Oriented or Clinical Research in Hypertension
  • 1 Clinical Science Investigator Award for Excellence in Translational or Clinical Hypertension Research
  • 3 New Investigator Awards for Japanese Fellows

25 Poster Presenters can potentially win the competition this year! Which has gone up significantly from the previous years.

I am excited to go to Chicago for #Hypertension18 this year. If there is anything you need to enhance your experience during your time at the conference contact the program officials (directions in the program book).

I look forward to meeting you all! If you see me around tweeting, introduce yourself. I love meeting new people and learning new things. After all, that is why we are all going, right? 🙂

#Hypertension18 Conference Learning Objectives:

  1. Discuss changes to the AHA/ACC guidelines for the management of hypertension and their clinical implications.
  2. Describe opportunities to improve blood pressure measurement in the clinical setting to provide more accurate results.
  3. Identify immune and inflammatory mechanisms that contribute to the development of hypertension and hypertension-related end-organ damage and discuss the research and clinical implications.
  4. Educate participants about medical approaches for the management of co-morbid obesity in patients with hypertension.
  5. Describe new and emerging strategies for treating resistant hypertension.
  6. Describe participants on the impact of value-based reimbursement on hypertension management and identify opportunities to improve its management.

 

Leave a comment or tweet @AnberithaT and @AHAMeetings if you have questions or are interested in something else specifically.

Follow me and @American_Heart @AHA_Research @AHAScience and @HyperAHA on twitter for more #HeartSmart information.

For meeting Tweets follow @AHAMeetings @HyperAHA @AHAScience #JAHAMeetingReports @JAHA_AHA for the latest on#Hypertension18!

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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.

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Ride The Wave… Of Motivation

At the conclusion of every conference I attend, I’m reminded of the need to keep the momentum and energy of the experience alive after the journey home. This year’s Scientific Sessions was no exception. I got to expand my knowledge base, connect with other fellow attendees and presenters, and learn new guidelines to take back home.

How do we keep the motivation alive to ensure conference success?

Without further ado, I will share my “Top Tips for Conference Success.” Many of these tips and tidbits are pieces of advice I’ve collected by attending sessions over the years. Give one (or more) of these a try at your next meeting (or suggest some of your own) and let me know what you think in the comments!

  • Turn the abstract into a manuscript while you are on the plane home

You know that poster that you created? The one that you spent 45 minutes standing next to during the conference? Start the manuscript while you are traveling home; the material is fresh in your mind. 

  • Bring the learning back to your community… Pay it forward

Plan an educational session or a recap of the material covered for your own peers or organizations

  • Be inspired by what you have seen and come up with new ideas for future research

Innovate, innovate, innovate! Maybe you envision a collaboration! Go after it!

  • Follow up with the contacts you have made during the conference

Emails, LinkedIn, Twitter, regular phone calls, snail mail! Remember your business card if you meet in person!

  • Create action items for yourself when organizing your notes

Next steps, meeting details, follow up plans are important to keep in mind!

  • Takeaway points

Write down a few key points from each session

  • Pick the right sessions and plan your schedule in advance

Map out a tentative schedule of the highlights, and be sure to find time for the social events too! Don’t worry if you cannot make it to everything, it can be overwhelming, but having a plan certainly helps!

With these tips and tricks for success, you can maximize success for the conference and beyond!

Megan Kamath Headshot

Megan Kamath is a Fellow in Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include outcomes and decision making in advanced heart failure and utilizing technology in healthcare. She is now tweeting @MeganKamath, so follow her on there!

 

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How To Conference Like A Rock Star: Tips For First-time Conference Attendees.

Approach a large national meeting like it’s a Target run.  You know the scenario – you go into Target to get just one thing and leave with 10 items you didn’t know you needed.  Likewise, you can go to a scientific meeting thinking your priority is to get CME, or to network, or to share your research.  But really it’s all of this and more.  Below are my 2-cents on how to get the most out of professional meetings.
 
…Ready for it?
Do a bit of prep work before the conference starts.  Download the mobile App since this will have the most up-to-date session details.  Pick out the sessions that are most relevant to your career or research interests; 2-3 per day would be reasonable.  Plenary and late-breaking clinical trials sessions are usually worth attending. Then schedule in the miscellaneous which are just as important: Early Career networking, class reunions, meetings with mentors, sponsored dinners, etc.
 
Shake it off.
The national AHA meeting can seem terribly overwhelming.  There’s 6-8 talks going on at the same time, vendors and poster abstracts spread out over an area equivalent to a football field, council meetings and sponsored lunches/dinners in adjacent hotel venues.  My first whoop-de-do was an American Society of Nephrology conference (back when it was still called Renal Week) and I recall feeling lost and worrying whether I was making the right choices about how I was spending my time.  Such anxiety is pointless – just breathe, do a bit of preparation (see above) and steer away from fear-of-missing-out mentality.
 
Talk to people.
It’s easy to hang back and blend into the masses – there’s nothing wrong with that, but you will gain more if you are actively engaged.  Introduce yourself to leaders in the field, whether to ask a question or to just let them know you’re a fan of their work.  Share ideas with other early career colleagues.  Chat with reps at the vendor booths (a good way to learn about new devices and drugs on the market, since pharma representation is tightly restricted at academic centers).  Most folks are happy to talk and will appreciate your interest.
 
Taking breaks is okay.
You are not obligated to sit in talks for 8 hours straight.  Have a coffee, tea, or smoothie break.  Grab lunch to reconnect with friends or colleagues.  Browse the vendor booths and play a spin-the-wheel game.  Relax at the Early Career lounge; post a tweet or two.  At a meeting in Atlanta I joined a tour of the Coca Cola museum then went back to sit in on an evening research abstracts session.  The break cleared my mind and allowed me to re-focus.
 
Blank space.
For Early Career peeps with a young family: This is your professional development time.  Probably best not to bring your dependents.  It is much harder to focus on the new hypertension guidelines if you’re wondering whether your kids ate a good breakfast and whether they’re doing okay at the hotel pool.  Just saying.
 
End game.
Keep an open mind and you’ll find a learning opportunity at every turn.  While it’s normal to initially feel a little intimidated, after the first day you’ll be navigating scientific meetings like a pro.  And definitely take advantage of the awesome Early Career events and resources at AHA meetings!
 
(How many Taylor Swift song titles did you spot?)

Wei Ling Lau Headshot

Wei Ling Lau, MD is Assistant Professor in Nephrology at the University of California-Irvine, where she studies vascular calcification and brain microbleeds in chronic kidney disease.  She is currently funded by an AHA Innovative Research Grant, and has been a speaker for CardioRenal University and the American Society of Nephrology.