April 2010

Getting the Most Out of the Annual Meeting

Reception
Meeting attendees relax at the 2009 opening reception in New Orleans.

Indulge Your Curiosity

The No. 1 priority of most meeting attendees is usually to maximize their attendance at oral presentations and posters covering topics directly related to their work. While this is a natural and understandable objective, to pursue it to the exclusion of all else is to miss a marvelous opportunity to learn about new things and meet new people. Sampling from the broad spectrum of topics covered at the conference offers one the opportunity to put aside the pressures of deadlines and competition for a moment and experience the simple pleasure of satisfying one’s curiosity.

Stepping away from the trees to view the forest offers many practical rewards as well. Students can open their imaginations and contemplate their future. Where do I want to go next? What would I like to work on? With whom would I like to train? Investigators can step back and view their own science from different perspectives: applying new concepts to the interpretation of their data, imagining new directions for their research, visualizing novel collaborations and previously unsuspected applications for new technologies. You can also learn about the best practices for reaching nontraditional students and mentoring women and undergrads at the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee symposium on mentoring. These “complimentary skills” certainly will pay dividends as you progress through your career. Taking advantage of the full breadth of the conference is a good way to refresh both your spirit and imagination.

Research or Education? Do Both!

You also can broaden your experience by attending the education and career sessions and workshops offered by the ASBMB Educational and Professional Development Committee. Learn more about the current pedagogy of the classroom and laboratory and find out the latest about new careers and what employers are looking for. Take the time to prepare yourself for your next teaching assignment or even a new career!

Pace Yourself

The meeting’s four-day span may seem like a short period of time, but it is remarkably easy to feel run-down long before it ends. The conference packs each day well beyond overflowing with presentations, posters, vendors and interesting people. In addition, most attendees spend the evening hours socializing with old and new friends and taking in some of the sites of the host city. Long hours and high energy can take their toll. Build time into your game plan to slow down. Don’t pack your schedule just to appear busy. Here is where budgeting some time to indulge your curiosity and expand your horizons can help. No need to take frantic notes for fear of missing out on something relevant to your own work. You can sit back and simply listen.

Don’t run around trying to visit every vendor and collect every “freebie” on the first day. Space out your interactions; use them to provide a change of pace. Be selective, lest you end up dragging around a bulging bag of brochures and giveaways like a ball-and-chain.

Don’t Be Passive!

By far, the most enduring benefit of an ASBMB meeting is a set of newly acquired connections and relationships. The conference provides a unique opportunity to meet scientists from all fields and every corner of the globe. However, meeting new people and establishing new relationships requires active participation. The only real barrier to participation is your own reluctance to act. Your fellow conferees are ready and willing— indeed eager— to answer questions and share their experiences. Like all scientists, they are curious and want to know more about their fellow participants. Even the most distinguished scientist can still vividly recall his or her own experiences as a student.

The meeting provides numerous opportunities for interaction. At the conclusion of every talk, there are a few minutes to answer questions from the audience. Every poster presenter will stand by his or her display at the appointed hour, waiting to discuss his or her work. Posters are a wonderful mechanism for first-time attendees to get involved. In addition, the society has created many interesting opportunities to actively network with your peers: Dance with scientists at the opening reception, run a few miles with your next potential grant reviewer in the 5K Fun Run or talk to Journal of Biological Chemistry editors at a special lunchtime discussion. And, finally, there are few better opportunities to meet people who offer good advice and perhaps affect your career than by attending one of the thematic receptions, the minority scientist reception or the women scientists’ networking reception. Those casual interactions can lead to new collaborations and great ideas… all over a plate of snacks and a drink. And, remember: Don’t just sit back and eavesdrop— introduce yourself!

Peter J. Kennelly (pjkennel@vt.edu) is professor of biochemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Joseph Provost (provost@mnstate.edu) is a professor of chemistry at Minnesota State University Moorhead.


Feel free to add your suggestions for how to get the most from the meeting below.

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COMMENTS:

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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