#ASHG17 in the Shoes of a Trainee

Posted By: Monika Schmidt, Chair, ASHG Training & Development Committee

On any given day of the ASHG Annual Meeting, I find myself in a predicament: What’s next on the schedule? Should I attend the exhibitor talk in the CoLab theater, visit interesting posters, or seek advice at the Careers in Academia panel?

No matter how carefully I plan my schedule ahead of time, the meeting always has more to offer than I could possibly take advantage of: exciting talks, posters, trainee events, workshops, exhibitor presentations, and naturally, social events. This year’s meeting in sunny Orlando was no exception, and in my role as Chair of the Training and Development Committee (TDC), I hardly had a moment to sleep.

20171030_Monika-Disney
TDC members Lauren Tindale, Monika Schmidt, and Julie Jurgens take a moment to enjoy Orlando’s non-genetics attractions. (courtesy Ms. Schmidt)

I kicked off my experience early on Tuesday, October 17, by presenting to ASHG’s Board of Directors all the fabulous work the TDC has done over the past year. Despite being a bit nerve-wracking, this was hugely rewarding – there is so much support for trainee professional development and mentorship from the ASHG community. These two themes reverberated over the rest of the meeting.

Professional Development and Networking at #ASHG17

Developing networking skills benefits from lessons and practice. Recognizing this, ASHG teamed up with The Jackson Laboratory to develop the multi-week Conference to Career Program, which included a dedicated section on networking skills for national meetings.

Following the Conference to Career in-person session, the TDC hosted Peer Networking Trivia – an ideal event to put networking lessons into practice. 2017 marked the third year the TDC hosted this event for trainees; it was rewarding to watch new friendships form as trainees commiserated over the challenging genetics trivia questions. Naturally, it’s much easier to get chatting when a topic is presented for discussion, and so the Tweetup, Opening Reception, and various evening exhibitor events presented new situations for trainees to practice their networking skills. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting trainees at these receptions, chatting about their vision for future initiatives, and of course, singing along with NIH Director Francis Collins on guitar.

Mentors at ASHG: Many Ways to Connect

Between scientific sessions in the mornings and afternoons, trainee mentorship became the focus of my lunch hours. The TDC hosted two panel discussions this year: Careers in Academia and Careers in Industry. The panelists’ responses to trainee questions were thoughtful and thorough, which meant that I and my TDC colleagues spent a lot of time live-tweeting the discussions using our newly-introduced hashtag: #ASHGtrainee. Panelists hung back after the sessions to answer questions one-on-one, providing another networking opportunity.

On Thursday, the TDC launched our inaugural myIDP (Individualized Development Plan) session, led by Philip Clifford. I was blown away by the incredible turnout and high level of engagement with the material presented. This session led trainees on an introspective journey aided by their peers, and asked them to examine their values, strengths, weaknesses, and interests. The goal of the session was to help trainees define career paths that suit their personalities, needs, and wants. With a room abuzz with discussion, 75 minutes was undoubtedly too little time, and the TDC will be looking to expand the session at future meetings.

While the TDC-led lunchtime sessions were happening, ASHG staff were hosting the Trainee-Mentor Luncheons and newly introduced Round Table Discussions. These events focused on establishing trainee-mentor relationships and providing a more intimate setting to ask advice of a successful genetics professional. I myself am still in contact with the mentor who shared lunch with me in 2014. On the note of keeping in touch with mentors or networking contacts: remember that the mentors and Trainee Leaders at ASHG really care for your success as a trainee – we want to hear from you! Your emailed question or LinkedIn request (with an introductory message, of course) are welcome. So, take 30 minutes today to thank the mentors who spent time with you for their advice – you might just get a better response than you expected, and you’ll be on your way to building a network of professional contacts!

20171030_Monika-RR-session
TDC members Douglas Dluzen (far left) and Monika Schmidt (far right) with speakers at a trainee-organized invited session on rigor and reproducibility in genetics. (courtesy Ms. Schmidt)

The final trainee event of ASHG 2017 combined the best of mentorship and networking in an evening reception, Career Paths in Genetics. As a mentor at the TDC table, I and other TDC members were thrilled to answer questions from trainees about what being an ASHG Trainee Leader entails, and how the position provides an opportunity to advocate for trainees within the Society and at a federal level via FASEB. I also took a break to just ‘be a trainee’ per se, and heard a thrilling story about patenting BRCA1 from the intellectual patents mentor, discovered a whole new potential career path in scientific administration, and was offered very sage advice by a mentor from academia on maximizing upon my abilities post-PhD.

Reflecting on ASHG 2017

Every year I return from the Annual Meeting with renewed motivation for my research and a reading list as long as my arm, as is to be expected of any stimulating conference. I also came home hopeful that fellow trainees heard the same messages that I did over the five days in Orlando: it’s always the right time to say hello and explore potential new connections, pursue a new experience to build your skills, learn about yourself, and see what the world of genetics has to offer.

Monika Schmidt, BSc, is the 2017 Chair of ASHG’s Training & Development Committee, and has been part of the TDC since 2015. She first joined ASHG in 2014, the same year she started graduate studies.

Interested in a leadership position like Monika’s? Apply for 2018 Trainee Leadership Opportunities by Monday, November 6. For questions about these opportunities and other trainee issues, contact Monika on Twitter using #ASHGtrainee or by email

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s