Posted By: Pauline Minhinnett, Director of Meetings; and Emily Greene, Meetings Program Coordinator
Earlier this week, the ASHG Program Committee gathered in Bethesda, Maryland, to create and assemble the ASHG 2017 scientific program. Having reviewed more than 3,100 submitted abstracts, with help from more than 100 reviewers, the Committee met in person to bring the highest-scoring work together into themed sessions for the meeting’s three Featured Plenary Abstract Sessions and five Platform Sessions. They used early registration data to assign sessions to rooms, ordered presentations within each session to tell a coherent story, and selected Reviewers’ Choice Abstracts among top-scoring posters. They also discussed educational events at the meeting, trainee opportunities, and abstracts of interest to press.
In the coming weeks, the Committee will select and confirm moderators, make any necessary adjustments, and continue planning Tuesday’s Poster Talks session. Those who submitted abstracts should receive their program assignment in mid-August.
Conferences offer a variety of networking events you should fully take advantage of, but keep in mind that scientific sessions and visiting the exhibit hall can also provide new opportunities.
Before attending a conference, it is always a good idea to glance at the agenda and mark workshops of interest. Identify speakers whom you would like to meet. Each conference is unique because each offers various workshops, resources for different career levels, and receptions that allow you to network in a safe space. There is no need to feel shy or stay quiet at a conference; you can always ask questions. Use this time to explore, learn, listen, and communicate.
Use Presenting as an Opportunity
Each conference I’ve attended has provided me with great opportunities that I would have never imagined. I have learned to feel more confident while presenting my research. Was I nervous? Of course, but the more I practiced, the more comfortable I felt. Constructive feedback from people who visited my posters or talks has helped me improve my presentation skills. I was asked questions that provided me with great ideas about what to do next in my research project.
Presenting a poster or an oral presentation at a conference can also be a good way to interact with people at various career levels, which may lead you to discover similar interests. Be ready with your elevator pitch about your research (a minute or two) and your own branding statement (a simple statement). No need to be arrogant but in simple terms, describe who you are and your interests.
Remember the Exhibit Hall
Most conferences have an exhibit hall with vendors, institutions, resources, and career centers. Take advantage and visit them. This can help improve your networking skills or spark ideas for the next step of your career. By strolling around conference exhibit halls, I have learned about summer internships, scholarships, fellowships, post-baccalaureate programs, and graduate schools. Now, I learn about new job opportunities or professional/leadership training opportunities.
Relax and Enjoy the Experience
You never know whom you will meet or what you can learn from a conversation with a stranger. So make sure you have a plan but also go with the flow and enjoy every minute of your conference experience. Don’t stress about it. At conferences, I have met people who became life time friends and wonderful mentors who have been instrumental in my career through their advice and support.
Attending national conferences can be intimidating or exciting. The first one I attended was quite overwhelming. Do you remember how you felt at yours? Did you ask yourself questions like: why is it important to attend a national conference? How do I prepare? How can I make the most of it? What should I do and how do I network? These thoughts can be nerve-wracking, but don’t worry: these tips will help ease your nerves and guide you to prepare for the next one.
Meet People and Follow Up
As an undergraduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, I participated in the NIH-funded Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program, where I learned about the do’s and don’ts of attending conferences. First, look and dress professionally because first impressions make a difference.
Second, be sure to have business cards. It might seem outdated, but business cards can help break the ice and start conversations. I know that reaching out and introducing yourself might be uncomfortable, but it will all be worthwhile even if you end up feeling dead tired and drained. Make sure your business cards include your full name, degree/title, organization, contact information, LinkedIn URL, and something that can grab people’s attention in a positive way. One of my tips is to immediately write on the back of each card collected the date you met that person, key words to help you remember the conversation, and the name of the event/location. These notes are helpful because, believe it or not, you will start collecting tons of cards and by the end of the day, you will forget which card belongs to whom. Nurture these new relationships by writing follow up emails; showing interest and professionalism can set you apart.
By networking, you never know who you can meet and what the outcome can be. You can meet your next mentor, find out about a new opportunity, or start a new collaboration. You might even get invited to do a research talk or share your story with K-16 students, like I did. Keep reminding yourself to be open-minded and network with new people during meals. Attendees usually feel comfortable sitting with people they know, but this is the right time to try sitting with unfamiliar faces to start a conversation. During this time, you have the opportunity to network, introduce yourself, and even use your scientific elevator pitch. I have sat in tables with total strangers feeling a little uncomfortable at first but at the end, had wonderful conversations and met new friends.
Posted by: Emily Greene, MS, ASHG Meetings Program Coordinator
ASHG 2017 abstracts are due in just a few weeks, and every year, abstract authors have the same question: How do I get my abstract programmed? The Rules & Policies and Step-by-Step Submission contain important information about how to conform to ASHG standards and avoid rejection, but today I’ll share some more nuanced tips to help abstract authors rise to the top of the pile.
Include the Most Relevant Information
First and foremost, write a clear, concise abstract that specifies what you did and why it’s exciting. If you sent your abstract to a friend in a distantly related genetics field, could he or she easily identify the work’s purpose, methods used, and key results? If not, then it’s back to the drawing board (or computer, in this case). You may think the information is self-evident, but abstract reviewers each read 150-200 of the >3000 abstracts submitted and will appreciate clarity – they are not mind readers!
Abstracts with broad scientific appeal and new information are more likely to be chosen for talks, especially for the Plenary Sessions. When asked their main reason for attending, most meeting attendees want “to hear about cutting-edge science.” Avoid using general language and clearly state what new information you will present, even if part of your work has been published. It is tempting to recycle language from old abstracts, but keeping your science fresh requires constant updating and a critical eye. Spending an extra hour on writing can reap big rewards if you are awarded a coveted speaking slot.
Remember: your abstract must report scientific findings. Abstracts are not the proper place to announce the availability of a new resource or service, or to advertise a particular product. Discussion of commercial products is permitted and colleagues from industry are encouraged to present, but remember to present objective information about those products, based on generally accepted scientific evidence. Presenting your work as “X product works better than Y product” is a sure way to score poorly during review.
Help Reviewers Classify Your Work
Once you have perfected your abstract and are ready to submit, you may be wondering which main topic and subtopic to select. In 2016, the topics were reorganized for the first time in many years. Authors now choose one main topic and one subtopic indicating what clinical phenotype, related trait, or biological system is being studied, rather than a single topic that might inaccurately describe the research. Of course, given the rise of interdisciplinary and collaborative studies, some authors will still struggle with this classification system. A good rule of thumb is to choose the topic and subtopic that are most appropriate for review. The number of talks chosen from each topic is scaled to the number of submissions, so your abstract has an equal chance of being chosen for a talk regardless of topic. Be sure to tag keywords in your abstract to help the reviewers and Program Committee identify exciting research and build themed sessions.