Mentorship and Inspiration at Scientific Sessions

Life as a resident physician can be demanding at times. The long hours, the difficult task of cross covering multiple wards, and the emotional toll of caring for sick patients are all factors that can make residency a difficult road to travel.  It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and in the process, your empathy. It is important to keep track of where you have been, and more importantly, who you want to become. This is why I believe that mentorship and inspiration play a critical role in medical training. A great mentor can guide you, can celebrate your victories with you, and also, pick you up when you are down. At the same time, inspiration helps you push through difficult times. As residents, we need to identify with and become inspired by those that have gone through the path we are on so that we may fight burnout.

With that in mind, I would like to make the plea to students, residents, and fellows at any level of training to attend the AHA Scientific Sessions next year. Here is why, given my experience this past year at AHA18:

First and foremost, walking into Sessions, you will feel connected to something larger than yourself. You will find thousands of people from different fields of study and walks of life in attendance who have traveled many miles in the name of their dedication to reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease and strokes. This part of the experience really changed how I viewed my own training as a resident, and I began to see my role in the bigger picture.

Second, Sessions provides an opportunity for professional development. Whether you are attending an activity in the Early Career Lounge, or watching a lecture in the main auditorium, you end up meeting influential clinicians and scientists at every turn. You learn more about the challenges they faced in their training, their work ethic, and their inspirations. I found that many had gone through the same uphill battles as me: balancing research and clinical duties, family and work, down to even grasping difficult concepts in cardiology. This resonated with me.

These face-to face interactions help you not only address your own challenges, but also plan out the next steps in your career. Whenever possible, I took the opportunity to discuss a research idea or career choices with the mentors I met at AHA. Whether they supported the idea or played devil’s advocate, they helped me view these ideas in a different way. At the same time, I was able to pitch in my experiences as a resident and a former medical student to help those going through training.

Setting aside time from clinical duties to attend conferences can at times be a difficult endeavor, but I believe that experiencing a national conference such as Scientific Sessions can aid your career. It will help you identify mentors, role models, and potential collaborators.



Why Attend #AHA19?

After returning home from the #AHA18 Scientific Sessions a few weeks ago, I was eager to tell my colleagues back in Los Angeles about my experience.

“What did you like about it?” they would ask. While my replies would consistently begin with, “Well, despite the freezing cold…” I found my answers that followed were widely varied. The innovative science, the networking with potential collaborators, the audible excitement over Late Breaking Clinical Trial results, the discussions about whether the trials would be practice-altering, the reunions with old friends from earlier in my training. There were countless things to choose from.

Curious to whether other trainees shared the enthusiasm I had for #AHA18, I asked some who attended to describe their favorite part of the meeting. Here were their responses:

David Paik, PhD (@dtpaikPhD), post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University:

“This year’s meeting in the new 3-day format was highly organized, with superb talks from all breadths of clinical & basic cardiovascular research. The focus on early career & mentorship was excellent, and I hope it continues in the next years’ meetings!”

Aly Sanchez, MD (@AlySanchezMD), Internal Medicine resident at the University of Miami:

“There were many new things introduced at AHA this year & a huge focus on prevention as well as women’s health. I loved seeing the force behind the women in cardiology movement. It’s great having inspirational females leading as well as the supportive men making this happen. The AHA could not have sent a better message & we should continue to remind ourselves to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.”

Kevin Shah, MD (@KevinShahMD), Advanced HF & Transplant Cardiology fellow at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center:

The networking! The Scientific Sessions and especially the AHA FIT and Early Career programming provided a tremendous opportunity to connect with old friends, meet new colleagues, and gain valuable career advice from faculty as we continue to grow professionally.”

Their sentiments and mine may have been palpable via Twitter feeds or news releases, and this year, the AHA offered a live-stream of Scientific Sessions for those unable to attend in person (see posts by Dr. Saurav Chatterjee and Dr. Dan Tyrell).

Yet nothing compares to attending Scientific Sessions in person. As elegantly summarized by Dr. Elizabeth Knight in her recent post, there are serendipitous collaborations that can arise from wandering around the meeting, as well as new research ideas that can emerge from a “cross-pollination among disciplines.”

In trying to encapsulate my own reaction to the meeting, however, I realized that the most important benefit of attending #AHA18 in person came down to one emotion: Leaving inspired. Inspired by meeting your heroes in cardiology, by meeting peers who are doing outstanding research, and by learning about new topics that can influence your own research ideas.

Moreover, it is one thing to read about the results of a late-breaking clinical trial from home. It is another experience entirely to be immersed in a crowd of colleagues who are hearing practice-altering results together for the first time. The first results slide of the REDUCE-IT trial presented at #AHA18 actually elicited applause:


Overall, I like to compare it with how you interact with your favorite band or musical artist. You can listen to their album from the comfort of your own headphones. Or you can go to their concert and see them perform your favorite songs live while surrounded by other passionate fans, augmenting the impact of the music. Some prefer the former, but I always choose the latter when I can.

Save the date for #AHA19 – November 16-18, 2019 in Philadelphia. Come and be inspired. See you next year!



Tips for Networking at Scientific Sessions

Scientific Sessions never fails to bring forth a variety of opportunities for those who attend – The latest on what’s hot in the cardiovascular realm of research. Details on changes to healthy heart parameters. New tools for more efficient cardiovascular research. And let us not forget, networking opportunities!

In the scientific community, we all hold terminal degrees and are considered experts in our respective field; thus, it is not always about what you know but more about who you know. Networking opens the door to opportunity for numerous people and is as simple as sharing your enthusiasm for science to a stranger. Gone are the days of hammering in the lab alone day and night cranking out single authored paper after single authored paper. Welcome to the new age of team science and who knows, this stranger could be the collaborator you have been longing for. However, on the spectrum of outgoingness, those of us in academia tend to fall more on the introverted side and find it slightly intimidating to make new connections. You do not want to be the person who opened his/her mouth and almost said something. Almost. But instead, watched in a state of paralysis wondering how life might have been if you had fought the urge and instead spoken up. (Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner) Lucky for us, Scientific Sessions helps to fix the phobia of making new connections by providing different opportunities for its attendees solely dedicated to networking. One example of this was the Early Career Speed Mentoring and Networking Session offered at this year’s meeting. However, if you were unable to attend one of the many networking sessions, let it be one of your resolutions to step out of your comfort zone and actively participate next year.

In the meantime, here are a few tips that I have searched and think are helpful when approaching an intimidating networking situation:

Arrive on time. Sometimes if you arrive late than groups have already been formed. As a result, it will be more difficult to jump into conversations. It may be scary to be the first one there but it will be more beneficial in the long run.

Ask easy questions. Get the conversation started! However, make sure to include the other person in and not monopolize the conversation

Share Your Passion. People can tell when you are genuinely excited about something. Use your inherent drive for your research to win this new person over!

Smile. This one is easy, the more inviting and authentic you appear the more people will want to talk to you and the less forced the conversation will be.

Research attendees and come prepared with question. While this may seem like extra work that you do not want to do. Being prepared with questions can make the conversation run seamlessly and appear less forced and more authentic.

Bring a friend. It can sometime be awkward to talk yourself up, but by bringing a wingman, you now have the someone to help talk up your accomplishments without coming off as boastful. Having a friend also helps to ease the discomfort associated with talking to new people.

Don’t forget to follow-up. You have done all of this hard work to make great new connections so do not let the conversation end here. Make sure to exchange contact information to be able to keep in touch.

Are there any additional tips that you can think of?



Council, Forbes Communications. “10 Networking Tips To Help You Make A Great First Impression At An Event.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 23 Apr. 2018,

DeBaise, Colleen. “7 Tips for Networking.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, 3 May 2012,

Joubert, Shayna. “The Importance of Networking in Science.” Northeastern University Graduate Program , 9 Aug. 2018,




3 Key Reasons to Attend Scientific Sessions Early in Your Career

What is the value of traveling to a large cardiovascular meeting, when the information communicated in the sessions will be available via Live Streaming and the major news will be published immediately? Why go through the expense and the hassle of time away from work? Attending an event like Scientific Sessions is not easy for most of us — especially Early Career professionals who experience high demands on our time and limitations on our resources. So what makes it worthwhile? Of course this depends on your career type and your goals, but I believe the following three reasons are important for everyone in academia:

  1. Hearing and learning things you would not have sought out. When you’re at a professional conference, you have set aside time for learning. You are less likely to be squeezing learning in between other tightly scheduled commitments at home. This time allows for serendipitous exposure to new areas. For example, even though my research focuses on symptoms, risk, and communication, I heard some very interesting sessions about the microbiome. Similarly, this kind of broad exposure enables cross-pollination among disciplines that share common goals but diverse methods. What can basic scientists learn from nurses? What can interventional cardiologists learn from computer programmers?
  2. Personal connections. The power of small interactions— a chat in the coffee line, a well-put question during a session— is undeniable. The opportunity to make such connections with people at all levels in your field and related fields is one of the major benefits of attending a conference. Certainly this includes people who are “big names,” but also people whose work you might now take an interest in since you’ve met them (and vice versa). When I attended a 10-day seminar in Tahoe last year, I sat around the campfire with Dr. David Goff, director of an NIH division, and I was also the roommate of Dr. Sherry-Ann Brown, a junior scientist whose work I’ve since cited. I was able to reconnect with them and other old connections from the seminar at Scientific Sessions this year, and was genuinely interested in their work on a new level because I knew them.
  3. Momentum and enthusiasm. I always come home from events like this brimming with ideas. Science is a highly creative endeavor, and anything that sparks creativity is good for science. To make the most of this aspect, I keep good notes and make a priority list, including names, references, and contact information if applicable. I review my list on the plane ride home and identify “action items” for follow up. An event like Scientific Sessions also gives you a great feel for the overall state of cardiovascular research, and for the current priorities of different stakeholders. Using this information in long-range planning is smart and increases changes of successful projects going forward.

While it’s not feasible to attend every event that interests you, I highly recommend making an event like Scientific Sessions a priority, especially early in your career.

Why do you go to Scientific Sessions?

AHA Early Career Bloggers had the opportunity to get to know one another during Scientific Sessions 2018



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.