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Fifth Year at Vascular Discovery: How an Early Career Navigates Through a Virtual Event

It is not news anymore that after World Health Organization (WHO) classified novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a pandemic, the real-life impact of the “new normal” started to show itself. We started to see the impact by pausing the research and of course, cancelation of all scientific events. As scientists shifted their focus toward the data analysis, manuscript preparation, grants or any other means of remote work, the American Heart Association also shifted its focus to keep events happening, virtually. This new mode of attending a conference has many perks including petting your dog when the field’s connoisseur is giving a talk, drinking coffee from your favorite mug, or keeping the PJs on. However, there is a trade-off. Navigating through a professional event such as #VascularDisovery20 is challenging by itself, let alone going after it when you are not physically present. The following tips will help you to turn this year into a great opportunity.

1: Networking with Peers and Mentors: Online Presence

Now that there is no opportunity to join a table for lunch, mingle during the dinner event or grab a coffee with your colleagues from other countries, increase your online presence by interacting with attendees on Twitter. Use the chat mode during virtual sessions to ask questions or chat with others. If you have a burning question about a talk, either tweet at the presenter or email them. This is a great practice for increasing your “professional” online activity.

2: Utilize the Home Stay

Now that you have a desk in front of you instead of sitting on conference room chairs (which are really uncomfortable from time to time), take notes with ease, have your screen open with relevant papers to the talk, take high-quality images from the slides you find important and download the available contents in advance from the #HeartHub. In addition, you can now have a comprehensive look at your favorite posters and get connected with the presenters.

3: Plan Ahead

Although you may think that you can easily jump to the laptop and login to the talk that is “live”, the reality may be different. There are still concurrent sessions that you need to choose which one you attend. Also, there is always a possibility of a technical problem, so make sure that everything is set and you know exactly which talk you are going after. Also, pay attention to the time-zone listed in the schedule.

4: Hangouts at Conference Evenings: Say Hello to Face Time or Zoom

It is an unwritten tradition that many attendees get together after a long day of scientific endeavors to sit down, chit chat and grab a drink. Use the ATVB Journal virtual happy hour with EIC Dr. Alan Daugherty as an example. If you would like to hang out with the “conference buddies”, reach out to them, set up a private virtual meeting and catch up. This is a great practice to break those shyness barriers, especially if you are at the early career stage.

It is obvious that nothing compares to be physically present among your peers, colleagues and mentors. However, during these uncertain times, we can still manage to make the most out of the opportunities we are offered. As scientists, we are always learning to overcome new challenges and come up with new solutions, therefore, navigating through a virtual event not only is a fun challenge but also is a great learning experience with many opportunities.

“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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On The Front Line Of Vascular Discovery 18: Highlights From An Early Career Point Of View

The 3-day #VascularDiscovery18 was filled with cutting edge research in different areas of vascular biology. Great exposures to senior scientists made it an outstanding opportunity for networking and starting new collaborations. In this short video, I tried to share a real-time experience of the event with an early career perspective in mind, asking senior and junior scientists about their ideas about the event and science in general.

Shayan Mohammad Moradi Headshot

Shayan is a caffeine-dependent Ph.D. Candidate at the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Kentucky. His research area is focused on vascular biology and lipid metabolism. He tweets @MoradiShayan, blogs at shayanmoradi.com and he is the Winner of World’s Best Husband Award (Category: nagging).

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Vascular Calcification… It’s Complicated

The Vascular Discovery meeting in San Francisco last week was whirlwind of learning and networking. My favorite moment was at the Friday 7 am Early Career Training session where, by coincidence, I ended up at the same table with @Ritu_Ganguly1, @MoradiShayan and @JeffHsuMD. We had all signed up to provide social media coverage of the conference via the Twitter account of the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), so it was great to meet them in person. Later in the day, Ritu and I worked (read: laughed and cried) through the Genome Editing Bootcamp together, a challenging case-based workshop led by the excellent Dr. Kiran Musunuru.

As discussed in my pre-conference blog, vascular research is extremely pertinent to chronic kidney disease. Children on dialysis can manifest the same arterial calcification as a 70 year old. An established mechanism in vascular calcification is the phenotype switch where vascular smooth muscle cells start behaving like bone cells, secreting matrix vesicles filled with calcium-phosphate mineral into the extracellular matrix. At the Vascular Discovery meeting Dr. Elena Aikawa discussed advances made in the understanding of matrix vesicles, which are critical precursors of microcalcifications. In a JCI paper, her group reported co-localization of the protein sortilin with caveolin-1 and tissue nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, and defined sortilin’s role in loading mineral into vesicles. Dr. Aikawa raised a follow up question: Would future therapies that block activation of sortilin prevent microcalcifications, and thus prevent vascular calcification?

Dr. Catherine Shanahan, who described the role of programmed cell death or apoptosis in dialysis-associated vascular calcification, discussed the interaction of aging and vascular cell phenotype change at her Vascular Discovery talk. Her lab has been examining the nuclear lamina, or network of filament proteins which are a part of the cell nucleus. It turns out that the aging vascular smooth muscle cell accumulates prelamin A (see Circulation Research paper), which leads to DNA damage and triggers the osteogenic phenotype switch. This raises the intriguing question: Can we reverse cell aging to block vascular calcification?

The nature of scientific research is that more questions are raised as progress is made. Scientific meetings such as Vascular Discovery have an important role in updating investigators and clinicians, fostering new collaborations and training early career professionals.

Wei Ling Lau Headshot

Wei Ling Lau, MD is Assistant Professor in Nephrology at University of California-Irvine. She is currently funded by an AHA Innovative Research Grant, and has been a speaker for CardioRenal University and the American Society of Nephrology. Follow her on Twitter @Kidneys1st

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Vascular Discovery 2018: Prologue

This year, the previously known ATVB conference will debut its new name as the Vascular Discovery: From Genes to Medicine 2018 Scientific Sessions. The collaboration of three well-known AHA Scientific Councils, (the Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, the Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease and the Council on Genomic and Precision Medicine) will provide a unique opportunity for attendees to make the most out of their scientific experience, network with connoisseurs in the field and establish new collaborations.

As a scientist in the early stages of my career, my conference agenda will be focused on the followings:

Early Career Training Sessions – Hallmark of the Event

Attendees talk during the Early Career Sessions at ATVB17

Based on my experience from the last few years, I will look forward to attending the Early Career Training sessions. I was always captivated by the fruitfulness of these short sessions and how it helped me to shape my moving-forward career. This year, the first and second day of the conference will start with Early Career Training sessions. On Thursday, the Early Career Committee will share insights about succeeding at every stage of your career featuring talks on starting your own lab, work-life balance and transitions to the industry. The session on Friday morning is organized in cooperation with the ATVB Early Career Committee and will be focused on skills needed for difficult situations.

In my opinion, the points that will be discussed during talks in these sessions and their following Q & As will provide ample insights about how to modify your move toward future steps of your career.

Network, Network, Network!

The smaller setting of Vascular Discovery ‘18, compared to AHA Scientific Sessions or similar events, allows you to see more and to be seen more. You will have more exposure to your peers and experts in your field of interest during different segments of the event. Try to stay away, as much as possible, from peers and people from your own institution and find new connections.

Before heading to the event make sure that you ask yourself “why am I going?” Are you looking for a possible position? Is it a recommendation that you may want? Are you interested in starting collaborations? Come up with a goal and make sure you accomplish it instead of aimlessly wandering around.

Attendees use the networking opportunities during the breakfast and registration at ATVB 2017

Now that you have a networking goal, make sure to have an effective introduction when meeting someone new. Make eye contact, smile, and state your name and institution clearly then, listen (believe it or not, it is easy to miss these points when you are nervous).

Also, make sure you are not forgetting business cards and lean on “I just gave away my last one!” Moreover, have in mind that you will not remember the important details of every conversation, so be prepared to take notes. The whole purpose of networking is to connect with people in the near future and taking notes will make it easier.
 
Personally, I believe that networking is one of the priorities in attending any scientific sessions and being proactive and prepared for it will help you to make sure that you get the most out of it.

Poster Sessions – Land of Opportunities

If you are attending Vascular Discovery ‘18, you are probably aware that your research falls within the overall themes of the conference. Therefore, you find much more topics that you will be interested in, compared to more comprehensive meetings.

This point will specifically come to your realization during the poster sessions. Posters are one of the crucial currencies for communications and connections. Given the fact that how powerful posters are in making connections and receiving feedback, whether you are the presenter or the presentee, you should make sure to plan your attendance to the “land of opportunities.” Based on personal experience, visiting the posters from well-known research groups in your field of interest can help fostering strong working relationships. It would be helpful if you familiarize yourself with the names and even pictures of people who you may be interested to talk to, so you can approach them during the poster sessions.

In the case of you being the presenter, it is recommended that you prepare different versions of talking points, a short elevator pitch for less curious and a longer version for one’s with deeper interests. Finally, be open, enthusiastic and passionate during your presentations and do not be shy to ask people earlier in the day to stop by your poster.

Final Words

Vascular Discovery ‘18 will be filled with sessions discussing cutting-edge research from world-renowned scientists. Therefore, it would be worth it if you spend time on the final program and pick out the sessions/talks which you would be interested in. In case you will not be able to attend this meeting or some of the sessions, make sure to follow my special coverage of the event on my twitter (@MoradiShayan).

At the end of the day, also note that a full day of scientific quests may get overwhelming, so plan to have fun after the conference and enjoy the beauties of San Francisco.

Shayan Mohammad Moradi Headshot

Shayan is a caffeine-dependent Ph.D. Candidate at the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Kentucky. His research area is focused on vascular biology and lipid metabolism. He tweets @MoradiShayan, blogs at shayanmoradi.com and he is the Winner of World’s Best Husband Award (Category: nagging).