April 2010

Getting the Most Out of the Annual Meeting

It’s, well, big!


EB audience
Audience members listen to a lecture at the 2009 annual meeting in New Orleans.

When recollecting the first time I entered the main exhibit hall at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting as a graduate student, my mind often wanders to a scenario from a fantasy-adventure film. The heroes, in the midst of exploring some strangely deserted location, suddenly turn the corner or open a door to find a hidden city. There, spread before them, is a teeming mass of people, colorful banners and strange structures filling some vast cave or undersea dome in which the heroes seek refuge. The heroes are pressed for time. They must find within this bewildering maze: a) the leader of this hidden city, b) the rebels battling to bring enlightenment to the people, c) a hidden radio, so they can contact their companions, d) some special element needed to power their crippled spaceship or cure some raging epidemic or e) the location of some critical poster presentation before it is too late!

While we all know that some fortuitous event or remarkable coincidence will take place to guide our fictional heroes to the object of their quest, a novice conference attendee cannot rely on the intervention of a Deus ex machina. This article summarizes a few basic practices that will help the first-time participant successfully navigate the acres of conference center, thousands of posters and hundreds of talks that typify each year’s gathering of the ASBMB.

The Venue

For several years, ASBMB has met in concert with other biomedically oriented professional societies at a joint event called “Experimental Biology.” The sponsoring societies for Experimental Biology 2010 include the American Association of Anatomists, the American Physiological Society, the American Society for Investigative Pathology, the American Society for Nutrition and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. The attendees are thereby afforded the opportunity to explore the offerings not only of their “home” societies but those of the other participating organizations as well.

The geographic hub of the meeting is the main hall, a several-acre expanse where row upon row of posters, each marked by a unique alphanumeric identifier, alternate with a colorful kaleidoscope of display booths, where myriad vendors— equipment manufacturers, publishers, supply houses, etc.— vie for the attention of the passing throngs. Every day, a new set of posters is erected, with the presenters assigned an hour or two during the afternoon to stand next to them and answer the questions of the curious onlookers. Scattered throughout the convention center are the many halls and smaller rooms in which plenary talks, award sessions, symposia, and workshops spanning a wide variety of topics will take place. Other functions, such as lunches and various types of social gatherings, occur in the convention center and surrounding hotels.

In the lobby of the convention center are registration booths, a mailbox for leaving notes for other participants and a set of computers for accessing e-mail. Adorning the lobby, corridors and central hall are banners and billboards advertising the participating societies, meeting sponsors and events.

The ASBMB meeting begins with a plenary talk on Saturday evening and proceeds through Wednesday. In addition, a number of special events and small conferences on specialized topics take place on Saturday and Sunday. Among those are the undergraduate poster session, on Saturday afternoon, which is accompanied by workshops targeting the participating students and members of the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliate’s Network, which organizes this event.

Map Out a Game Plan

Preparation is crucial to getting the most out of the ASBMB meeting. The sheer volume of topics covered at the meeting requires that multiple oral presentations or poster sessions take place concurrently at several locations throughout the building. It is, thus, important that attendees search the program to identify the events that are of greatest interest to them and determine where and when they will take place. The prudent attendee also must examine the floor plans for the convention center to determine how to get from one location to the next.


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Providing the scheduled events in a machine readable format such as ical would go a long way to making it easier to compile an agenda.


I might add another important thing to do in the midst of paying heed to Peter's and Joe's very thoughtful suggestions: HAVE FUN! The primary reason why people return year after year to meetings is that they come away very much rejuvenated and inspired, as opposed to being overwhelmed and exhausted! And the suggestions to meet new people is very important. Who knows, you might be very pleased to see the same person or persons again at the next year's meeting! Remember, despite the large number of people you will see at the meeting, we are a rather small band of brothers and sisters! James T. Hazzard Chem. and Biochem. Univ. of Arizona



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