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In pursuit of power productivity: key mindsets for career success from an MD MBA director (part 1)

In Santa Clara County, 75.6% of individuals (12 years+) are currently fully vaccinated. With cases of COVID-19 down and street traffic on the rise, it is clear that the “normal” I once dreamed of is quickly approaching. I am a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University. In the laboratory, most restrictions are gone; there are no shifts, no distancing limits, and no limited room capacities. Yet, I still feel like I’m struggling. I still feel like I’m functioning at reduced productivity levels. While I completely acknowledge that my pre-pandemic lab hours were a bit crazy, and I should be okay with where I am, I want to get back to where I was. To help me with this, I spoke with an expert on productivity and stress, Dr. Steven Chan. Dr. Chan is on faculty at Stanford University, has taught students at the School of Business and School of Medicine, and has spoken and written on mental health at venues such as Google, NPR, and the American Psychiatric Association.

Please describe yourself and your pursuit of improved productivity? 

I am currently a medical director at a busy service in Northern California. I also work on healthcare technology, focusing on projects in the area of digital mental health. I am interested in the application of mental health on technology, and how this can improve people’s lives.

Productivity has always been a lifelong pursuit for me. Growing up, I was always very busy with extracurriculars: music, martial arts, exam prep, newspaper, the list goes on. There was always a lot to do that required a lot of time to excel at it. Then, when I went to college, the pattern continued. Same thing again with work life.

Over time, I’ve realized that it’s not only important to understand how the right tools can help you get more done, but also how to identify the right work to tackle.

What do you mean by “right work?” How do you decide where to invest your time?

When I am approached with a new opportunity, I choose to take on new projects based on three criteria:

  1. Enjoyment. Is this something I enjoy doing? Do I have good feelings?
  2. Skills. Am I good at this task? Or, is this an opportunity to learn new skills?
  3. Returns. Is there a return on investment (ROI)? This return doesn’t have to be purely financial and monetary; it could be rich in social connections. It could be valuable for your organization and yourself.

Ideally, new projects would have all three. Otherwise, a project would be imbalanced. Take enjoyment, for example. If a project involved evaluating pizza, well, I enjoy eating pizza, but it doesn’t take much skill and it’s unlikely someone would pay me to eat pizza.

Time is your most precious commodity. In careers such as medicine and science, there is an abundance of work and projects. Choose to do things that you enjoy, you are skilled at, and are worth your time.

I find myself saying “yes” to a lot of things — and I get overwhelmed! How do you say “no”? How do you deal with feelings that you are passing up on an opportunity?

Anytime you say “yes” to something, you have to be aware that you are saying “no” to other opportunities.

When people think about the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) or the fear of disappointing others, they think that they are permanently closing the door on an opportunity. This is simply not true.

In the past, I used to say “yes” to a lot of opportunities because I didn’t know where to best invest my time. The key to choosing good opportunities is to first have a good bird’s eye view of the opportunities out there. This requires some work and reflection. Know all the things going on in your life, identify your goals and values, and then get to know all the opportunities available to you. And after doing all this, make commitments using the three criteria we discussed earlier.

One final point, have regularly-scheduled reviews of your commitments. Do a weekly assessment, think about all the things you want to accomplish in a week, a month, and a year. Then adjust your commitments to ensure your maximal efforts line up with your long-term goals.

I feel like I am always short on time. What are the top 3 things I can do to help me with my productivity?

There are a lot of calendar hacks and to-do tips out there. But having the right mindset is critical before taking on new apps and new techniques:

Keep experimenting. There is no one perfect solution or single app that will organize your life. However, there is a whole community out there devoted to time optimization and productivity. These solutions and best practices evolve and change as you move through life. For example, when I transitioned from medical school to the work world, I quickly realized that it was no longer sufficient to write things down on paper. So, I turned to automated calendars. Now I use Busycal and Google Calendar, with Outlook at my main job.

Do reflections and get to know yourself. You can’t understand what you are good at, what you enjoy, and what you want in life without self-reflection. I remember going through the motions of classes and training, and it wasn’t until I got to stop and reflect that I truly was able to ensure a better balance between work and self-care.

Know your energy levels. For example, I know that I can’t get anything done in the evenings because I’m exhausted. When I was in medical school, I used to beat myself up over this because I felt the need to study every evening. But, now I know that I have much more energy in the mornings and commit more time to getting work done then. In addition to knowing when you work best, you can hack your energy levels by optimizing caffeine intake and exercise to boost energy levels when required.

Lastly, adjust your surroundings. Equip yourself with the right technology — fast, reliable computers; fast, reliable internet; and fast, reliable smartphones. Surround yourself with the right people to maximize your output. The energy levels of your peers matter. Establishing an environment with minimal toxicity and drama is essential. Do this at work, at home, and in your relationships.

How do you quiet that inner critic? How do you deal with feelings that you are not doing enough or not making enough progress?

Recontextualize or reframe this to determine if this feeling of inadequacy is true. Again, make time for reflection. List out all your projects and accomplishments, and then assess if you really are not doing enough. Ideally, a therapist, counselor, or coach can help you with this reflection — but there are so many worksheets and courses on the internet to guide you in doing the same.

Every year, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I assess all the things I have done and the things I have failed at. Yes, I keep a failure list, which sounds horrifying. I can’t tell you how many internships, jobs, relationships, and projects of mine have failed! But, I feel having a list of failures is an important step in beating perfectionism. A failure isn’t a bad thing. It means you are experimenting! Experimentation is good, leads to growth, and helps you learn. While failure can be a brutal blow to self-esteem, we need to fail in life. Failure provides feedback. In fact, if we have repeated failures, this tells us that we need to make significant changes in what we’re doing!

Are there resources that you would suggest to help with improved productivity and mental health?

Take a look at articles published in the business world regarding productivity and human performance. In business, people want to get the most out of their precious resources: time, money, and human resources. Read up on project management techniques, as these will help you run efficient labs, manage clinical teams, and even run research papers and grant-writing projects.

Where can you find these? A major resource is a library or even your HR team: many universities and workplaces have access to LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare. And, Mental Power Hacks — the website I run — plus my social media feeds at @mpowerhacks, also feature a lot of these techniques. I know this is a lot, and you won’t conquer it all in one sitting, but incorporate this learning in your routines to build these skills over time.

Thank you so much for these! In our next blog entry, we’ll talk about how to improve your productivity by managing relationships in both work and social life.

 

“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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Cardiac Critical Care Fellowship: Insights From a Fellow Who Recently Completed Her Training

I am pleased to have the opportunity to share the experiences of Dr. Alejandra Gutierrez-Bernal who was one of my general cardiology chief fellows and she recently completed her cardiac critical care fellowship!

Please describe yourself and your prior training.
I am a Latin American woman who loves cardiology, spending time outside, running, swimming, painting, and reading novels. I am the youngest of three and have a baby niece who brightens my days. I was born in Colombia and was fortunate enough to live in different places growing up including Mexico, here in the US and my native Colombia. I did my medical school training in Colombia and then spent some time doing research with my great mentor, Dr. Mina Chung, and Dr. Van Wagoner at the Cleveland Clinic. We studied the molecular mechanisms leading to atrial fibrillation which increased my interest in cardiology as a field. I then did my internal medicine residency at CCF and moved on for my cardiology fellowship at the University of Minnesota. I am currently finishing my critical care fellowship here too.

When and why did you decide to pursue cardiac critical care training?
As a medical student, I was fascinated by cardiology, specifically electrophysiology. I loved to look at ECG’s and try to figure out the exact origin of different PVC’s or arrhythmias. By the end of the residency, I was sure I was going to do electrophysiology. However, during my first year of fellowship, I spent a lot of time in the intensive care unit and everything it involved including VA ECMO, cardiogenic shock, and acute heart failure, and was given enormous autonomy. I found that at the end of the day, I was very tired but felt extremely accomplished and happy. I have had great mentors during my training and one of the people that has influenced me as a person and as a doctor, the most is Dr. Bartos. He is an interventional cardiologist and an intensivist. One day he told me I should think about this as a career and the thought had not occurred to me. The idea stuck with me and now after completing my training I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I have the opportunity to make a difference, establish connections with families and help them when they are most vulnerable. I couldn’t be happier with the choice I have made.

What unique experiences does a cardiac critical care physician who completed a cardiology fellowship have compared to those who pursue cardiac critical care training after completing an anesthesiology residency?
Critical care training is interesting because you work with various specialties. We all have very different perspectives which has made this past year of training so much more enjoyable.  When I approach a patient, I can’t stop myself from looking through the ECG, echocardiogram and think through their hemodynamics imagining what their numbers would be if I had a swan. I manage shock, assess volume responsiveness and fluid status, and use inotropes a little differently given my general cardiology training. My pulmonary critical care colleagues taught me to look at the chest CT and make a mental picture of their pulmonary status and my anesthesia colleagues play with the medications differently. As a cardiologist, the critical care field is very exciting. Our older cardiac patients often have multiple organ systems involved and patients in the other units have more cardiac disease.  This year has been an amazing journey as I go around the other units and look at them from different perspectives, critical care cardiologists fill a gap that was missing.

Why did you choose to stay at the University of Minnesota for cardiac critical care training?
There are three main reasons I wanted to stay here. First and foremost is mentorship. The field of critical care cardiology is newer and having someone to guide me and to aspire to was very important to me. Here I had the opportunity to train with great people who since the early stages of my training pushed me to think out of the box and practice independently, transforming me into a better person and doctor.  The second was the patient population. The University of Minnesota has a great resuscitation team, and we see a multitude of cardiac arrest patients many of whom are treated with VA ECMO. I wanted to have the first-hand experience treating these patients since I believe this is the future of cardiology. And lastly, the research experience. I had protected research time last year which was important to me as I wanted to stay at an academic center and wanted to start building my portfolio in critical care given that my prior research experience had been focused on electrophysiology. Overall, it has been a great experience and I wouldn’t do it any other way.

What are some of the unique aspects of cardiac critical care and general cardiology training at the University of Minnesota?We are lucky enough to have a lot of exposure to mechanical circulatory support. During our general cardiology training, we have several rotations in our intensive care units with our cardiac structural and interventional team which includes our post-arrest patients and the heart failure service with LVAD and transplant patients. We are given a lot of independence with these very sick patients, and I believe that this is what taught me the most and reinforced my decision to pursue critical care. Our cardiothoracic surgeons are very approachable and wonderful team players which makes work so enjoyable and patient care seamless.

What is the balance of your time during your first faculty position (e.g. how many weeks are you on service, do you get protected academic time, etc.)?
I am very excited about starting my first job. I think the balance is perfect for me to start my career. My appointment is 80% clinical and 20% academic. I will have around 13 weeks of service and will be only in the intensive care unit while on service. On my time off service, I will be in the echocardiography lab and will have some clinic. With this, I hope to have a great balance between the sick patients in the ICU and the more relaxing setting  of imaging and general cardiology.

What were you looking for when you were searching for your first attending position?
It was very important for me to be in an academic institution. I like clinical research and the idea of furthering the field is fascinating to me. I was looking for a place that would push me in terms of clinical experience to continue learning and had challenging patients yet provided support and mentorship. The University of Minnesota seemed like the perfect fit. I truly think that what I will be part of, will change the field of resuscitation and save lives, that is why we all signed up for medicine.

What advice do you have for other early career cardiologists?
I think the most important thing is to find and do what makes you happy. If the days are long and tiring but you feel fulfilled at the end of the day, then that is what you should be working for.

Thanks so much for the great advice, Dr. Gutierrez-Bernal!

 

“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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Series 1 – Interview with a Pioneer in Humanitarian and Voluntary Work: Dr. Yassine Abdeljebbar

I have always been impressed and inspired by the impact of medicine and voluntary work on people’s life.  I have recently known about great initiatives and projects organized by young physicians across the globe to help those who are in need. I had the pleasure to interview one of these inspiring physicians, Dr. Yassine Abdeljebbar. I decided to dedicate series of blogs to talk about voluntary and humanitarian work, how to get involved in these projects and how was Dr. Yassine Abdeljebbar’s experience in this field.

It is our pleasure to interview you Dr. Yassine Abdeljebbar!! To start our interview, tell us about yourself and your brief journey.

 I am a young doctor, started my career in a public hospital and joined from the beginning of my career the health center located in the Algerian extreme south, In Guezzam more precisely. I came to the United States of America to do research as a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai hospital Icahn school of medicine in 2019.

Originally from west Algeria, since I started studying medicine, I have always tried to put my services to the most disadvantaged, which provided me a rich experience in the charitable field. I am a member of many organizations and medical associations, even environmental ones such as Collective HAMEB, Je Vous Aime, AAMICO, OIM , we Algerians .. etc

 Today, I am committed to promoting a positive spirit in the new generations. I aim to inspire the young people who would, in turn, like to become activists by sharing my experience and my passion for mutual aid and solidarity through various humanitarian actions, conferences, workshops, appearances on television, radio, and on social networks.

How did you come up with the idea of ​​devoting yourself to humanitarian work?

The idea of ​​humanitarian work had been around since I was young.  As a human, I felt a desire but, above all an immense need to help others.  I have never imagined walking my way past someone who needs me without reaching out to him.  I dreamed of doing medicine to help those who are suffering because I can understand their struggles. My principle is humanity above all. As a doctor, you should put yourself in the patient’s shoes, sympathize with his pain, and then do everything possible to ease the pain.

Thanks to my parents, I am capable of chairing my passion for charity work today. They encouraged me to study medicine and help people who are in need.

Any advice for doctors or future doctors who want to get into humanitarian work?

Humanitarian work doesn’t just give you moral satisfaction, it’s also a great way to learn medicine in the field, so never hesitate to get involved with others. It’s an excellent experience that will help you and your community.

Stay tuned for more discussions in future blogs!! In future blogs, we will discuss more of these humanitarian activities, share some photos of prior experiences, and share resources for those interested in joining.

I would like to say a special thank you to Dr. Yassine Abdeljebbar, who dedicated the time to interview with us and share his experiences with all of us.

 

“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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You May Turn Off Your Cameras Now: Trials & Tribulations of the Cardiology Fellowship Zoom Interview Trail

Last month, I dedicated my blog post to tips for prospective Cardiology fellowship applicants. In this companion piece, I would like to share my experience on the Cardiology fellowship virtual interview trail. Part of my motivation is to provide additional information for Cardiology fellowship applicants, but also to shed light on various approaches – both successful and unsuccessful – to the virtual interviews. There was much hand-wringing this past year about the diminishment of the fellowship interview experience, which by necessity became all-virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways, it was better – the lack of travel made it more affordable and increased flexibility. In other ways, it was worse – being on camera for seemingly endless hours and feeling as if programs were invading your private space at home. Here are some takeaways from the 2020 Cardiology fellowship virtual interview season.

Virtual interviews are convenient

Say what you want about virtual interviews, but there is no denying that they are more affordable, convenient and flexible. Residents working 60-80 hours a week suddenly did not have to spend thousands of dollars traveling around the country. Applicants did not have to leave the comfort of their own home or office to interview around the country and as a result did not have to work as hard to find extra coverage. These decreased barriers democratized the interview process. However, virtual interviews also encouraged applicants to apply to more programs, clogging up the application pile and making it harder for fellowship program directors select among many highly qualified applicants.

Virtual interviews are surprisingly exhausting

Although Zoom interviews were convenient, many applicants found them to be mentally and emotionally draining. No matter how hard you try, Zoom cannot replace a real-life social interaction that is influenced not just by the things that you say or your facial expressions, but by the environment around you and the participants’ body language. Much of this context is lost during a video interview. Instead you are left with the feeling that you must be “on” all the time, lest the person on the other side of the camera misperceive you as being uninterested. That is not to say that you are not being closely observed at an in-person interview, but that this feeling of being under the eye is heightened when you are staring at a blinking green camera dot on your laptop for hours on end. As a result, the overall experience ended up being more tiring than I anticipated.

We could all stand to spend less time on camera

Although I have always thought of myself as an extroverted person, I found it difficult to be on camera for more than a couple of hours at a time. In fact, I greatly appreciated when program directors or coordinators took care to encourage us to take a break and turn off our cameras during gaps in between interviews. During these breaks, I would get up, stretch, and in a few cases even left my apartment to go for a short walk around my neighborhood.

A virtual interview does not need to last an entire day

I grew to appreciate efficiency and brevity in a virtual interview day. One interview day lasted for nine hours. By the eighth hour, I felt exhausted and unable to retain any further information. I had heard what I needed to hear about the program; those last few hours did not augment my experience. The most memorable part of the day ended up being the relief I felt when I logged off as the sun was setting. That overall experience would have been more pleasant, and the same amount of information would still have been conveyed, if the day had ended a few hours earlier. Therefore, I would argue that the ideal interview day length is four to five hours: a program should be able to conduct interviews and transmit all key information to applicants in, at most, six hours.

It’s hard to get the “pre-interview dinner” right on Zoom

Some programs chose to host a pre-interview Zoom “dinner” the night(s) before the interview, while others did not. Looking back on it, this decision did not affect how I viewed individual programs. I found one-on-one conversations in which I could talk with current fellows, especially fellows with whom I had some kind of personal connection, to be much more helpful than stilted virtual “dinners.” The experience with these Zoom “dinners” was variable. Some were well-run, leaving little ambiguity about what we were supposed to do at any given time and controlling the pace of conversations in a way that avoided awkward pauses. Others were disorganized to the point of being uncomfortable to sit through. These sessions are challenging because while some people prefer to be very active participants, others wish to more passively observe and take in information. It is difficult to cater to both of these types of people in a way that feels natural.

My recommendation: if you are going to host a Zoom, the session should be heavily structured so that 1) participants know exactly what to do at any given time, 2) applicants are given the space to ask questions without having to compete with others (short, timed breakout room sessions help with this), 3) providing discussion topics to fellows in case a group of applicants is unusually quiet and 4) ending sessions in a timely fashion so that participants do not have to sit in excruciating silence when everyone has run out of things to discuss. Efficiency is your friend here, as well.

You CAN still get a “feel” for a place without physically being there

Program directors and applicants were concerned that we would not get a good “feel” for individual programs without physically being there. I found conversations with fellows and attendings at various programs to be incredibly helpful in filling this gap. To my own surprise, by the end of most interview days, I logged off feeling as though I had a pretty good sense of what each program valued and ways and whether it might be a good fit for me.

Virtual interviews should be an opportunity to re-think how we do interviews

Instead of perceiving it as a crutch, program directors should view the virtual aspect as a chance to revitalize the interview day and distill it to its essentials. In some interviews, it felt as though programs were trying to recreate the entire in-person interview day on Zoom. This is a flawed approach because not everything translates well to Zoom. For example, pre-produced videos about the program do not need to be played in real-time during the interview day – applicants can watch these on their own time. Likewise, some PowerPoint presentations could also be pre-recorded for applicants to view in advance. The end result would be a leaner, more efficient interview day in which the limited on-camera time is spent interacting with others, so that applicants come away with a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of each program without spending an entire business day on camera.

 

“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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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.”

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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)!

 

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