Navigating a Scientific Meeting Alone

Posted By: Ann Klinck, Communications & Marketing Assistant, ASHG; Amanda Olsen, Meetings Assistant, ASHG; and Emily Davenport, Member, ASHG Training & Development Committee

You’re reading part two of our three-part blog series on attending the ASHG Annual Meeting. If you want to check out part one about budgeting, click here.

The ASHG 2018 Annual Meeting is getting closer each day, and advance registration is only open until October 15.

This month, we’re going to talk about best practices for navigating a meeting or conference alone, and how to enjoy the process.

Know What to Expect

If you’ve never attended an ASHG Meeting before, it might help you to look at materials from previous meetings such as blogs, videos, or tweets. Visualizing your setting is likely to relax some nerves.

Planning your days helps you focus your attention on networking instead of worrying about where to go next. The printed Program-at-a-Glance includes a schedule overview, scientific session information, and maps of the convention center. Check the schedule online, and learn about the app in advance.

Emily Davenport, TDC member, shares that the ASHG meeting is an introvert-friendly environment: “I was nervous, but there were a lot of people at meal times willing to eat together, and you’d be surprised how often you can find a friend-of-a-friend. Science is a smaller community than we think!”

Do What Makes You Comfortable and Confident

Know your limits! If you feel like you’re overextending yourself, then go to a relaxing place to unwind for an hour. You’ll get more value out of the rest of the day if you take that time. Think about where that relaxing space is for you, whether it’s your hotel room, your car, a coffee shop around the corner, or the inspiration lounges. ASHG also has a Prayer & Meditation Room at the meeting each year.

Wear clothes that you feel confident in. When you feel confident, you’ll act more confident, and you’ll be ready to mingle. Think sensibly when it comes to footwear.

Talk about subject matter that interests you, and chances are you’ll find someone who has similar interests. Posters are organized by scientific topic, so if you’re presenting a poster, you’ll be surrounded by people with similar interests.

Realize You’re Not Alone

Many attendees don’t come with colleagues, so you’re not actually alone. You’re surrounded by friends you’ve yet to meet! Think about where people are likely to be looking for some conversation filler: in line for an event or food, or waiting for a session to start.

There are many social events built into the meeting, such as: the opening reception; ancillary, satellite, exhibitor events; and inspiration lounges. Use the online schedule filter to see ancillary events, or ask exhibitors directly if they will be hosting something. Trainees should check the trainee events page and watch the video below.

Use twitter to find fellow attendees by using the social media badges, the meeting hashtag #ASHG18, and the trainee hashtag #ASHGTrainee. People are often on Twitter looking for exercise partners and sightseeing buddies. You can also attend the Tweetup social event.

The most important thing to remember when attending alone? Everyone is in it together! If you’ve never attended a meeting or you’ve attended a dozen times, there are new people all around you just as interested in mingling as you are. Come meet our friendly staff at ASHG Central throughout the entire meeting. We can’t wait to see you there!

Starting Your Postdoc Hunt: When and How to Prepare

Posted By: Rohit Thakur, Marie Sklodowska-Curie research fellow, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

“What are your plans after PhD”? – one of the most daunting and stressful questions often asked to graduate students. For many pursuing a career in academia, the obvious next step is a postdoctoral position.

The ideal time to start applying for postdocs is one year away from your graduation. At the beginning of the final year of my PhD, I made a list of institutes to explore. Based on this list, I directly contacted the principal investigators (PIs) whose work I found really exciting. After hearing back from them, I arranged a meeting with them to learn about their research. This provided a wonderful opportunity to network and establish professional relationships with them.

I also found the Conference to Career chat sessions with field experts extremely useful. At one of the sessions, Prof. Fred Winston shared very useful tips on setting criteria for choosing a postdoc lab, such as quality of mentorship, success rate of previous postdocs in academia, and publication rate of the lab. If you start early you are more likely to end up with multiple offers by the time you finish your PhD.

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Mr. Thakur discusses his poster presentation with Martin Lauss, PhD, Lund University, at the 2017 Joint GenoMEL/BioGenoMEL/MELGEN Scientific Meeting (courtesy Mr. Thakur)

Don’t Underestimate Geography

Starting a postdoc hunt can be overwhelming, given the numerous places a graduate student can potentially apply to. It can become easier if you can think about where (geographically) you would like to do a postdoc. After identifying a region, you just have to locate the productive labs that do the science that you find exciting.

Network, Network, Network!

If you are going to a conference, write to PIs beforehand whose work you find interesting. Network with them by inviting them to your poster and follow up with them afterward.

Start Your Application Early

Visit lab websites of PIs who you are interested in working with and pay close attention to the lab’s current interests required skills for postdocs. Use this time to develop a skill that will increase your visibility as a potential candidate. Write PIs an informal query about potential postdoc positions to PIs, including your CV and cover letter, and get your material proofread by your mentor and colleagues.

Get Your PhD Research Paper Ready to Submit

Showcasing your PhD research is a great way to convince future PIs about your skills and your ability to lead a project independently. If you have a paper ready to be submitted to a journal, get its preprint out on bioRxiv and mention it on your CV.

Seek Advice and Feedback

If you are contacting a field expert, openly ask for feedback and advice about your current research project. This is a great way to interact and establish professional relationships with PIs.

Finally, get out of your comfort zone. Aim higher but be realistic. Keep applying until you land an offer from your dream lab. I would also recommend attending the ASHG/JAX Conference to Career Program for honing your networking skills.

Acknowledgments: I am highly thankful to my supervisors Jenny Barrett, PhD; Julia Newton-Bishop, MD, MBChB, FMedSci; Jeremie Nsengimana, PhD; and Göran Jönsson, PhD, for their exceptional mentorship; and European Commission Horizon 2020 program for funding my PhD.

Rohit Thakur, B. Tech, is a PhD Candidate at the University of Leeds. He has been an ASHG member since 2017.

 

Networking Session was Great! What’s Next?

Posted By: Rohit Thakur, Marie Sklodowska-Curie research fellow, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

During ASHG 2017, I participated in the Conference to Career program, organized by ASHG in collaboration with The Jackson Laboratory. The program taught various skills such as networking, elevator pitches, informational interviewing, and how to follow up effectively, some of which I highlighted on the MELGEN blog last month. Today, I wanted to focus on the aftermath of networking: The art of following up! Before I start recommending strategies, I wanted to share my experience of how effective follow-up can lead to wonderful opportunities.

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Rohit Thakur (left) and colleague Joey Mark Diaz (right), participants in the ASHG/JAX Conference to Career Program (courtesy Mr. Thakur)

During the ASHG meeting, I was intrigued by a talk by Manolis Kellis, PhD, after which I prepared my elevator speech and talked to him about his group’s ongoing research. I was very interested in their machine learning approaches. Dr. Kellis was very kind and put me in touch with his graduate student. After returning from the conference, I followed up with Dr. Kellis, and that led to potential talks of collaboration between our groups. Dr. Kellis also offered to host me for a month-long internship in his group at MIT, which I accepted.

From my limited experience, I can say that effective follow-up is a necessary step towards building a strong network. Here are some recommended strategies.

Write an Email – 24 Hours’ Countdown

Follow up with people after networking by sending a personalized email within the next 24 hours, while the meeting is fresh in their minds. This email should include a thank you note and all the relevant information – articles, programming scripts, and anything else you had agreed to share after the networking session – and express interest in scheduling another meeting.

Connect with Them on Social Media

Social media has made it easy to connect with people from around the world, through platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate. You can keep in touch by congratulating them for their recent achievements and recognitions, and wish them on other occasions such as birthdays, and the New Year.

Invite Them to Give a Seminar

If you are fascinated by someone’s work, you can always invite them for a department seminar. As a trainee, you can recommend speaker names to the head of your department suggesting why they should be invited and how it will benefit your department’s research. Not only will this strengthen your relationship with the speaker, but will also help in fostering collaborations between other trainees/researchers and the speaker.

Always Give First and Expect Nothing in Return

Networking is a team sport. You can follow up with people by offering them your help and suggestions in a constructive manner. If following up leads to a successful collaboration, then you should always give equal opportunity in decision making, leadership, responsibilities, and benefits.

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L-R: Manolis Kellis, PhD; Mr. Thakur; and Alvin Shi, PhD Candidate at MIT (courtesy Mr. Thakur)

Acknowledgements: My project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 641458. I am highly thankful to my supervisors Jenny Barrett, PhD, Julia Newton-Bishop, MD, MBChB, FMedSci, Jeremie Nsengimana, PhD, and Göran Jönsson, PhD, for their exceptional mentorship and encouragement to expand my horizons. I am thankful to the organizers of the Conference to Career Program for developing networking skills of ASHG trainees and to Dr. Kellis for providing me with a wonderful learning opportunity in his group at MIT.

Rohit Thakur, B. Tech, is a PhD Candidate at the University of Leeds. He has been an ASHG member since 2017.

#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.

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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!

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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

Revamped for 2017: ASHG/FASEB Mentored Travel Awards for Underrepresented Trainees

Posted by: Kanika Pulliam, PhD, ASHG Educational Programs Manager

This year, ASHG and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) are offering a newly structured travel award for underrepresented* trainees who are full-time undergraduate, graduate, medical students, and postdoctoral/clinical fellows who attend ASHG 2017.

Applications are due August 31, 2017 at 5:00 pm U.S. Eastern Time. Email questions and completed applications to marcssm@faseb.org.

What makes this travel award unique is its goal is to provide engaged and structured mentoring for trainees attending the meeting. This is fostered by assigning each awardee a peer mentor based on common interest.

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Networking and mentoring are important parts of the revamped ASHG/FASEB travel awards. (credit: ASHG)

The mentorship process starts before ASHG 2017 and continues during and after the meeting. Peer mentors will begin communicating with awardees before the meeting through a series of activities, including helping awardees choose events and sessions to attend and establishing their career interests to customize the meeting experience.

During the meeting, awardees will practice their presentations with their peer mentors and receive feedback. Peer mentors will also help awardees identify Exhibit Hall booths to visit based on their career interests, attend a social event together to practice networking, view poster and platform presentations to learn how to ask questions, and critique presentations. After the meeting, peer mentors will follow up with awardees by continuing to provide professional development support.

Peer mentors are selected based on their experience attending the meeting and their proximity in career development to the trainee awardee, which makes the relationship more relaxed. We have selected a diverse group of mentors spanning academia, industry, medicine, science education, and non-profits.

Awardees are required to attend specific trainee events and visit the Career Center to advance their networking skills and professional development. Here are the required events:

Wednesday, October 18

  • Diversity Breakfast, 7:15-8:45am

Choose 1 of the following concurrent sessions:

  • Trainee Professional Development Program (Academic Career Panel), 12:30-1:45pm, OR
  • Trainee-Mentor Luncheon (1), 12:30-1:45pm

Thursday, October 19

Choose 1 of the following concurrent sessions:

  • Trainee Professional Development Program (Passion Won’t Pay the Bills: Planning for a Successful Scientific Career), 12:30-1:45pm, OR
  • Trainee-Mentor Luncheon (2), 12:30-1:45pm

Friday, October 20

Choose 1 of the following concurrent sessions

  • Trainee Professional Development Program (Industry Career Panel), 1-2:15pm, OR
  • Mock NIH Study Section Workshop, 1-2:15pm

The travel award provides up to $1,850 in reimbursable funds for registration and travel. Applicants are required to submit and present (poster/oral) at ASHG 2017. Eligible applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents with legal status. Trainees can be from minority institutions and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or underrepresented trainees from majority institutions. Preference for the award is given to ASHG members.

* For the purpose of meeting the goals and objectives specified by the FASEB Diversity Resources Program, individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, and behavioral sciences include: 

  • Individuals from racial and ethnic groups shown to be underrepresented in biomedical research, including Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians (who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment) or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other U.S. Pacific Islanders (Guam, American Samoa);
  • Individuals with disabilities, defined as those with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; and
  • Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds [usually undergraduate students], defined as those from a family with an annual income below established low-income thresholds and those who come from an educational environment that has inhibited the individual from obtaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to develop and participate in a research career.

Kanika Pulliam, PhD, is ASHG’s Educational Programs Manager. Learn more about ASHG’s programs for trainees, including programs at ASHG 2017.

An ASHG Fellow’s Perspective on Conference Prep, Part 2: Conference Events

Posted by: Teresa Ramírez, PhD, 2016-17 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow

See Part 1 of Teresa’s guide, which focuses on networking

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.

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Teresa Ramírez presents her research at the 2017 Japan-NIH Joint Symposium on Advances in Biomedical Research (courtesy Dr. Ramírez)

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.

Please check out the ASHG website for more information on trainee opportunities, resources, and ASHG 2017.

Teresa Ramírez, PhD, is the 2016-2017 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow. Learn more about the Genetics & Education Fellowship.

An ASHG Fellow’s Perspective on Conference Prep, Part 1: Networking

Posted by: Teresa Ramírez, PhD, 2016-17 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow

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.

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Teresa Ramírez at a recent meeting of SACNAS (Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science) (courtesy Dr. Ramírez)

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.

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In 2016, Dr. Ramírez presented on STEM careers to a group of high school interns, a talk she was invited to give by a contact whom she met at a dinner. (courtesy Dr. Ramírez)

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.

Please check out the ASHG website for more information on trainee opportunities, resources, and ASHG 2017.

Teresa Ramírez, PhD, is the 2016-2017 ASHG/NHGRI Genetics & Education Fellow. Learn more about the Genetics & Education Fellowship.