By ASHG President Charles Rotimi, PhD
Over the past few months, we have heard that many of you are eager to get together again and that a computer screen is not a true substitute for the in-person conference experience. Our experience organizing past ASHG annual meetings has revealed countless examples of human connection, creative energy, and the joy of discovery that cannot be matched.
While there are many reasons for our community to gather in person at ASHG 2022, perhaps the most compelling is to be exposed to the depth and breadth of top-tier advancements in human genetics and genomics from around the world. This year’s annual meeting offers an exceptional lineup of speakers, led by our Presidential Symposium. These speakers were chosen to showcase some of the incredible growth that the African genomics ecosystem has experienced. From the increasing participation of African scientists and the communities, it is transforming to the profound new insights in advancing human health that are currently underway, there is much to discuss about this dynamic and diverse continent’s major advances.
Attending a conference is a brilliant way to promote inspiration by exposing yourself to fresh ideas, exciting projects, and new people. One way to maximize the inspiration factor is to attend a session that you would not normally attend, or that doesn’t directly relate to your field. Keep your eyes peeled for inspirational sessions and out-of-the-box presentations.
As someone who has attended the meeting for a number of years, I am aware that it can be overwhelming, with new scientific discoveries to learn about and colleagues to meet. What are some of the things a first-time attendee can do to prepare? Here are some of the ways I have approached the meeting:
- Planning Ahead. First, I focus on basic logistics. I get a map of the city, orient myself to where my hotel is in relation to the Convention Center, and figure out how to coordinate any transportation I might need. I also try to know the area where I am going and what makes it special and figure out a few things I might like to do along with finding some good spots for meeting up with others.
- Organize Yourself Using the ASHG 2022 Mobile App. Next, I use the ASHG meeting app to orient myself on what to expect at the meeting. I work ahead of time to note any talks I want to go to and posters I want to visit to make the most of my time during both concurrent and poster sessions. The app will show you if there are any conflicts so you can prioritize your schedule. And you can also see if any of the talks might be available online after the meeting is over.
- Network! It’s important to talk to people during the poster and evening networking sessions, meet with exhibitors, and pack your business cards! I prepare myself for good interactions with others. The annual meeting is a wonderful networking opportunity, particularly for trainees who have the opportunity to look into the eyes of mentors. It’s important to interact with others as colleagues and there is no substitute. I have made lasting relationships with fellow attendees as well as exhibitors. Look for topics and research that are generally interesting to you, not just those in your current field, and try to make it a goal to meet someone new at every poster session.
- Collaborate with others after sessions. One of the things I really find joy in is attending a talk and asking people questions afterwards. Sometimes you can’t frame a question while a discussion is happening, but the chance to have a dialogue with someone afterwards is powerful. There is no boundary in these interactions in terms of where they can take you. It is a radically different experience to be with someone reconnecting in person as opposed to virtually. Senior colleagues are very accepting of dialogues with early career researchers, but even more important is the chance to meet with people on the same level as you. Where are they at in their careers and where are they going?
- Visit the Poster Floor. I always go to all of the poster sessions. Posters are a great way to talk to people about more detailed aspects of their work. Additionally, if I missed a talk during a concurrent session I will also check if the presenter (or anyone from the same lab) has a poster so I can still touch base with them even if I couldn’t make it to their talk.
The most important thing of all is to have fun! The meeting is a professional event, but it’s also a chance to find joy with others with similar interests. When you’re attending a scientific conference like the annual meeting with a group of like-minded people who are also striving to enhance research for people everywhere, the energy is contagious. It’s hard not to get excited about new findings and discoveries in the human genetics and genomics field. For many of us, just to be amongst our peers is an honor and to be a part of shaping its future!
I am looking forward to once again attending an in-person meeting where I can move from an exciting poster session discussing a topic in my area of expertise and see colleagues and friends while absorbing the newest science, to lectures from some of the best scientists in the world as they provide a window into fields I want to know more about. It’s exciting to realize that we are only weeks away from ASHG’s first in person meeting in three years! I hope you will join us! To register for ASHG 2022, please go here.