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My Experience at BCVS20

Thank you to the organizers for putting together a vibrant and informative fully virtual AHA Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Scientific Sessions 2020 (BCVS20) conference this year!

While I have attended many meetings and classes virtually this year, BCVS20 was the first major scientific conference that I attended virtually and I did not know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by the many benefits of participating in the meeting virtually but there were many things that I missed about attending meetings in person.

I enjoyed the convenience of being able to work in specific sessions into my usual work week of attending clinic, doing lab experiments, and attending classes and into my personal life. Additionally, I liked being able to watch some sessions in the comfort of my home, sitting next to my dog. Similar to fellow AHA blogger, Dr. Mo Al-Khalaf, I also appreciated being able to easily jump between many live sessions without having to run across a large convention center. Moreover, I felt that it was sometimes easier to pay attention to certain talks without the distraction of being in a crowded area with many simultaneous presentations. I was impressed by the quality of the presenters’ talks and efforts by the participants to stimulate lively discussions.

I did not take time off to attend the meeting and I felt that the week of BCVS20 was extremely busy for me. Although I appreciate the convenience of having a fully virtual meeting, I miss being able to take a short reprieve from some of my usual responsibilities to give my undivided attention to specific sessions. Furthermore, due to my other obligations, I was unable to attend some of the very valuable, live early career sessions. However, the ability to rewatch the BCVS20 sessions (which are available for 90 days after the meeting) will allow me to catch up on many of the sessions that I missed!

While there are many benefits to attending in-person meetings, not least of which is being able to see your friends and colleagues in person, having a virtual meeting allows people throughout the world to conveniently participate in and attend a meeting. I hope that conferences in the future will continue to be a hybrid in-person and virtual format to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules.

For those of you who attended the BCVS20 meeting, don’t forget to provide your feedback on the meeting via the link emailed to you. If you missed registering for the meeting, it is not too late to get access to the recorded sessions. I hope to continue seeing many of you either virtually or in-person during future AHA meetings!

 

“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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Interviewing a first-time conference attendee

Conference attendance is a core component of the journey graduate students go on, seeking to advance their knowledge and expand their network within the field of their academic pursuit. This year, unlike any other year before it, some students and early career professionals are experiencing their very first major conference participation and attendance in a virtual setting. The current global pandemic and response to it has forced many major conferences to cancel their planned in-real-life settings, and many have opted to switch these important annual gatherings to a brand new all-virtual format. This of course is a valiant effort to continue providing a platform for networking and sharing knowledge within the community.

While many of us have had the chance in previous years to attend and participate in classic conference formats, I continued to think recently while attending #BCVS20 about how is this unique virtual experience being perceived by the first time major conference attendees? The all-new format and change in typical factors that come into play when one is attending a conference, normally in an unfamiliar location in a city or country, all add up to a very novel introduction to this core component of career advancement. It would be quite illuminating to engage and discuss with a first-time attendee about this experience, and there at #BCVS20, I was lucky to know and have a chance to interview a first-timer to major conference attendance, one who also happens to be my friend and soon-to-be Master’s in Science degree holder, Ms. Supriya Hota (Twitter: @supriyahota28).

Here is a lightly edited version of the interview we conducted on webcam (Zoom meeting!), shortly after the end of the #BCVS20 meeting:

Mo: To start with a big-picture view of the experience, could you tell us how the overall experience was like, after many hours of content, over 4 days of back-to-back sessions, full of novel basic science research?

SH: If I were to summarize my overall experience in three words, it would be: thrilling, fascinating, and inspirational! My colleagues and mentors, including yourself (Blogger note: Happy to be part of the team!) have always told me great things about the AHA conferences, and I must say #BCVS20 was truly one-of-a-kind, even when it was a virtual one this year. Every day of the conference, I was able to feel the energy and enthusiasm right from my small computer screen! #BCVS20 was also a life-changing experience for me because it truly encouraged me to pursue higher education in the field of cardiovascular sciences. So here I am, looking forward to attending more conferences like #BCVS20 and networking with potential supervisors in the near future!

Mo: Focusing on the virtual format for the event, as a first-time attendee for a major international meeting, do you think the setting was adequate and sufficient in meeting your expectations and intentions for attending a meeting like this?

SH: Primarily, my expectation was to get an update of the basic science research that is happening in the field, especially in the area that I study, which focuses on the role of inflammation in heart failure. I also intended to interact with the presenters by asking questions. The virtual format was more than sufficient to meet those intentions. For example, I was able to jump from one concurrent session to the other, so that I didn’t miss a presentation I was interested in. Therefore, I leave #BCVS20 with a substantial amount of information, not only in my research area, but also other areas in the field of cardiovascular science. On top of that, accessing materials and on-line sessions was very convenient via the BCVS Heart Hub. Moreover, I was able to focus on the presentations and take note of the specific details on images or graphs via the virtual format more so than I would’ve been if I had attended the real-life conference, because either I would have been sitting too far from the screen or distracted by attendees leaving or entering the room. Also, the virtual format gave me the courage to ask questions to the presenters, because as a graduate student who is very early in her career, I would have been hesitant to ask a question in a big room full of well-known scientists. Lastly, most of the sessions were on-time, giving everyone the opportunity to discuss the scientific data and personally encourage the presenters via supportive messages in the chat window, like “Looking forward to your presentation”, “Good Luck” and appreciate the presenters’ work by saying “Fascinating work”, “thank-you for sharing your research”, which I don’t think would have been as possible in a real-life conference.

Mo: Conferences usually serve two main advances to folks that attend them, (1) acquire the newest and most cutting-edge knowledge of what’s happening in the field, and (2) expand one’s network of professional connections within the field. Do you think those two components of conference attendance were served well in a virtual format?

SH: I think the program planning committee has done an outstanding job with displaying the newest and most cutting-edge research. The virtual format has fully served this purpose. As for networking, I do not think the virtual format can ever be equal to in-person meetings. Communicating via message chat is not as engaging as face-to-face communication, which, in the virtual format, might also be a limitation to some people for various reasons, (e.g. they might not have a working camera, they don’t feel comfortable engaging with other attendees from home, etc.). Despite these drawbacks of the virtual format, I think the planning committee and the early career committee have made a significant effort in providing networking opportunities to the attendees. At the same time, most attendees have made good use of those opportunities.

Mo: Follow up – Do you think paring and amplifying social media engagement between conference attendees (and organizers) can help with filling-in some of the networking gaps that precipitate by the virtual format compared to in-person meetings?

SH: I am in full support of amplifying social media engagement because it does assist with networking in a convenient way. For example, I saw that many presenters are actively recruiting talented individuals for open positions in their research programs. What would be a faster way to advertise for this position in the scientific community other than social media? I was disappointed every time some principal investigators were not on social media (Twitter). Even though I could tweet exciting facts about their research, I am still unable to engage with them one-on-one and it will not benefit them in return because others cannot follow their research. Therefore, social media, especially Twitter, assists in promoting one’s research to those who were not able to attend the conference and to the rest of the scientific community. I think social media and its ability to privately message individuals fills in a gap as well, because it gives the attendee the comfort and privacy to have a conversation with another attendee, which is not possible in the chat window of a virtual format where hundred others are listening or using the same message chat box.

Mo: Some of the advantages of virtual meetings include ease of access, lower financial commitments, increased diversity of participants and content being shared at those meetings. Would you say these advantages are persuasive enough for you to recommend this experience to another potential first-timer attending a major conference?

SH: I would definitely recommend BCVS to other potential attendees. As mentioned earlier, the two main purposes of conferences are to acquire the newest and most cutting-edge knowledge in the field, and expand one’s network of professional connections, which the #BCVS20 provided to its attendees. In addition, for sure the lower financial commitments and ease of access due to virtual format are persuasive enough for international graduate students like me to attend.

Mo: Any other comments or advice to give to future conference attendees that have a virtual meeting coming up on their calendars?

SH: I would recommend the following to future virtual conference attendees:

Before the start of the conference:

  • Create your own schedule for the conference, outlining the sessions you will be attending and when you will have breaks (very important! virtual conferences, like in-person meetings, can still be tiring.)
  • Make sure that your computer is connected to a working camera and microphone and has all the necessary plug-ins and applications installed for you to watch and participate in the online sessions.
  • Take the time to explore the Home Page from where you will access all the materials, on-line sessions, and on-demand options.

On the days of the conference:

  • Actively take notes – this prevents you from getting distracted!
  • Ask questions and/or provide a supportive or appreciative comment on the presenter’s work (that’s the least you can do)
  • Tweet about the presentation that fascinates you (Don’t forget to mention and follow the presenter!). Try to make your tweet intriguing by stating takeaways and attaching eye-catching scientific diagrams and results from the presenter’s talk, when allowed.

After the conference:

  • Organize your notes and create a recap or summary to share the valuable knowledge with your team.

Mo: Thank you so much for this illuminating discussion! And I look forward to attending more conferences where we get a chance to chat and share how those experiences translate to our common goal of advancing our professional career journeys.

 

“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 New Way To Participate

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

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

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

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

(photo taken by Mo Al-Khalaf, 2020)

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

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

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

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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Scientific Sessions during the pandemic

I didn’t know what to expect when I logged in to the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions earlier this month but having attended I’m definitely a fan of this new virtual format. As a trainee, the largest barriers to attending conferences are usually finding the funding and arranging the time off from work. Not having to worry about missing work on Friday and the cost of a roundtrip flight and hotel for the weekend was a huge positive.

In the couple of weeks since the conference, it’s also been great having access to sessions I missed. With so much going on during the live scientific session, it’s easy to miss a lot of really interesting new research being presented. Being able to go back a couple of weeks later and look through the content has made it much more digestible and eased any fear of missing out I had.

It did take me a little bit to get comfortable navigating the HeartHub (https://www.hearthubs.org/qcor), but then again I usually get turned around at in-person conferences too. Once I was in virtual sessions, I was surprised by how interactive the chats were and how relaxed they felt. Not sure why it felt less formal than an in-person conference but “attending” while having a coffee in my living room, rather than wearing a suit in a conference room sure didn’t add any stress.

Looking forward to #AHA20 online!

“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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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.”