How to get the most out of the ASBMB annual meeting

By John Tansey, Otterbein University

If you are going to the ASBMB annual meeting in Boston, it is a real honor for an undergraduate to be able to attend or present their data at a national meeting. The meeting will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and host over 10,000 scientists from around the world. At any given time, there will be over a dozen talks, poster sessions and events running concurrently. You will need to develop a plan to make sure you take advantage of all this meeting has to offer.

2015-AnnualMeeting-signatureThe basics
Make sure to get a map, gain your bearings and wear your credentials. Not just anyone can attend EB 2015. There will be six different scientific societies and hundreds of vendors at the convention center. You will need your meeting credentials to even be allowed in the convention center, and meeting badges must remain visible at all times. This badge isn’t just a nametag. Your credentials are the first thing you should pick up when you get to the convention center. On the other hand, once you leave the convention center, for safety reasons and so you don’t broadcast to the nation that you are from out of town, put that thing away. There are shuttles from the convention center to some hotels. There is also the T, Boston’s subway system. It’s cheap and easy to use and a great way to get around the city (more on that later). Pick up maps of both the city and the meeting at the convention center or download them. You should also download the meeting app or pick up printed guides to the meeting to figure out your plan of attack. That’s up next. Where are you supposed to be and when? What talks do you want to see? Every minute counts; get going!

What are your obligations at the meeting?
You probably have some professional obligations at the meeting. Presumably you need to present your poster or talk at the meeting at some point in time, perhaps more than once if you are registered for the undergraduate poster competition. Where do you present and when? Is it in the convention center or one of the adjoining hotels? Ask directions and figure out where you are supposed to be and when. Arrive early, especially if you are giving a talk. Typically slides need to be loaded on a common computer before your session starts. It goes without saying that you should have your talk backed up on the cloud or away from your laptop or tablet. If you are having your poster printed at the meeting, find out where you need to pick it up and get it well before you need to present it. Posters should also be hung in advance to allow meeting attendees time to view your work. Keep in mind that there are multiple poster sessions each day. Only hang your work when and where directed.

What should you do?
Now that you’ve given your presentation and it was a big success, what else are you going to do? It’s time to go to some talks. Oral presentations at a big meeting like ASBMB are divided into keynotes or plenary talks and sessions or symposia. Plenary talks are given by more prominent speakers. Sometimes these speakers are receiving an award, or they have been invited due to a special theme at the meeting. Some of the ones I am interested in seeing include: Erica Ollmann Saphire (“The molecular toolkit of viral hemorrhagic fevers”), Bonnie L. Bassler (“Manipulating quorum sensing to control bacterial pathogenicity”) and, of course, J. Ellis Bell, winner of the ASBMB Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education (“Don’t teach biochemistry, teach students!”).
Most of the talks are organized into sessions or symposia. There are over 60 of these sessions organized into topics ranging from “Posttranslational Modifications of Lysine” to “Diverse Career Opportunities for Scientists” and everything in between. These sessions contain multiple, shorter talks of 10 to 40 minutes each and focus on more specific scientific findings and questions. It’s fun to go to sessions and learn something new, but it’s more fun if you already know some background about the work. Try to find some talks that are pertinent to your work. Are there any authors you know? The app or meeting guide can be helpful in looking up authors or keywords that may help you find when and where they present. Try to plan this out in advance.

One of the most important things you can do at a meeting is networking. It’s really great to connect with other scientists from around the country. This is especially important if you are planning on pursuing a career in biochemistry and molecular biology. One of the best ways to network is to attend a networking session. There are several of these scheduled throughout the meeting. Some are sponsored by a specific group (young investigators, for example), but they are usually open to everyone. If you are not the most social person in the world, start small. Introduce yourself to other undergraduates. Ask them about their research and career plans. From there, begin talking with professors or potential employers. Just be yourself and have a conversation. In most cases, the point is to simply meet new people, not to climb the academic or corporate ladder. Still, if you have specific goals in mind (finding a job or looking for a graduate program), I would bring a current CV or resume and business cards. I would recommend exchanging cards with anyone with whom you have a substantial conversation or with whom you intend to follow up. I still bring a fresh CV to meetings, just in case. You should also update your professional online social media profile (sites like LinkedIn or Research Gate). These sites can serve as an online CV and give you more credibility than your Instagram page.

What’s fun to do and see in Boston!
After a few days, even the most dedicated scientist is going to saturate, and it becomes harder to learn new material. Boston is such an exciting city; when are you going to be there again? Take a few hours one day or evening between sessions and see the city. The New England Aquarium is in Boston, as is one of the world’s greatest science museums (the Boston Science Museum). Sports fans may want to check out Fenway Park or Boston Garden. My favorite activity is to follow the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile walking tour of some of the city’s most historic sites, including Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church and Faneuil Hall. Boston has wonderful food, great culture and fantastic people.

Most importantly, have a great time at the meeting. Your presentation will be fantastic! Go see some memorable talks, meet some new people and explore the city. Come back recharged and excited about science and ready to get back in the lab and finish that project! See you in Boston!

John Tansey is the chapter adviser for Otterbein University. He has taken over 25 students to scientific meetings and has yet to lose one. Follow him on Twitter @TanseyBiochem.

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