How to Attend a Mega Meeting: Part 1
PART 1: BEFORE YOU GO
Last year I attended a humongous medical meeting: DDW 2011. Digestive Disease Week is the major yearly international gastroenterology meeting. Organized by four GI societies (AASLD, AGA, ASGE and the SSAT) it brings approximately 15,000 doctors, nurses, PAs, students, trainees, PsyD, PhDs, pharmaceutics, devices, software, journals, etc. etc. etc. together for a week in May.
As in the world at large, economics has impacted our scientific love fest, and our formerly five to six day meeting is now four days.
Just as our session slims down on time, medical knowledge increases exponentially. Massive amounts of new data are stuffed into these action-packed days. Processing that amount of information in a short period of time is unwieldy for the average conference attendee.
The DDW session/abstract book is >1000 pages long. Let’s say that, like me, you are a budding assistant professor who will see many patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). You showed up, eager-faced, ready to tackle ALL the IBD-related sessions at DDW. What did you encounter?
- 61 sessions, presentations, or lunches on IBD
- 91% with overlapping time slots
- 591 posters/abstracts (reading @ 2 min/abstract = 19.7 hours)
- (748 by my co-fellow’s count = 25 hours)
- numerous “unofficial” off-site CME events, usually pharma-sponsored
This year is unlikely to be different. Unless you know something I don’t, you can’t be in multiple places at once. How will you deal with this? Even further, what if you are simply a general practitioner who wants to stay current with the GI times?
Therefore, having an attack strategy to manage one’s time is absolutely imperative to surviving a Mega Meeting.
I used to do this on the plane to DDW. Last year my plane flight was WOEFULLY too short to make this happen (~2 hours). It took me two hours just to identify all my possible choices, much less plan my time!
So, this year I’ll do better by sticking to my strategy and planning this BEFORE I board the plane.
To help all you Mega-Meeting attendees out there, here’s my strategy, developed over ~ 6 years of Mega Meeting attendance, specifically designed for early career professionals and students.
WHAT TO PACK
Get some cards with your contact information. You’ll meet people or see old friends, and this is a quick way to pass along your info. Pack your registration information and your abstract book if you have it.
Dress and accessory choices are quite personal. I wear flats, slacks, and a long-sleeved shirt with a sweater because I freeze during these things. If you take notes in your abstract book, you’ll be toting a huge book around, but you could get away with a shoulder bag. I, however, wanted room for pens, camera, phone/charger, computer, notebook, snacks, toiletries, umbrella, and a water bottle (obviously I carry more than the average attendee).
I bought a leather rolling briefcase last year and I LOVE IT. It’s a McKlein Glen Ellyn in red leather; holds my “kitchen sink” and fits under an airplane seat. It may not appeal to men, though, and I noticed most men sport a black leather shoulder bag.
Planning Step 1: PRESENTATIONS/SESSIONS
Read all presentation titles for all the sessions for all four days, and bookmark the individual presentations and/or sessions you want to attending. Skim this and do not linger. IGNORE conflicting times.
Last year, this took me the 2 hours on the plane. Luckily I could do it because there was wifi on the plane.
Next examine overlapping sessions and make a choice. Topics are commonly repeated, and you might catch a similar session on another day. I prioritize in the following way:
1) Career building
2) Knowledge building
3) Friend/colleague building
Planning Step 2: NETWORKING DURING THE DAY
Make a list of all the people you need to meet while you are there. Go to the index and look them up. Bookmark their posters and sessions. Add them to your session list and re-examine your overlapping time slots.
MAKING PROFESSIONAL CONTACTS AT SCIENTIFIC SESSIONS IS CRUCIAL TO CAREER ADVANCEMENT. If you are building a career, you MUST NETWORK. Say hello to old mentors and friends. Build in time to meet people in your field, introduce yourself, and promote your interests. You have no idea where this may lead, but this is the time to build those future collaborative networks.
Planning Step 3: NETWORKING AT NIGHT
Add your non-scientific meetings/cocktail times/meet-ups/study section meetings to your calendar. Usually these do not overlap with the scientific sessions. These are often at night and off-site, therefore requiring transportation. Luckily San Diego’s conference area is really compact, so if you stay in the Gaslamp Quarter, getting around won’t be a great challenge.
If you don’t have any cocktail meetings planned, you should track some down for your career’s sake.
- AGA Diversity Reception
- AGA Women’s luncheon
- University Alumni receptions
- Other professional society receptions
- AGA PAC Policy Roundtable
- Study Section business meetings
Planning Step 4: POSTERS
This one is tough. This is where I bombed it last year. I usually do keyword searches on the abstracts using the abstract disc. I tag the posters I need to check out. I didn’t do this, and I missed a lot of posters. A second strategy is to tag the main poster categories and stroll down the aisles, stopping at interesting titles.
Read Part 2 to find out the best ways to get around in San Diego, when to eat breakfast and what NOT to see.