Whenever I prepare for the ASCO Annual Meeting, I always place the sessions I plan to attend into my phone calendar along with all the other meetings that happen that week, such as editorial boards, investigator meetings, and lots of networking coffees. Although I use the Meeting iPlanner app, I also want to be sure that I don’t schedule anything else during the major lung cancer sessions. The general poster session, though, is one morning that I have to admit I often use for other things in addition to seeing the posters: saying hello to friends and colleagues, running over to get coffee for 30 minutes with someone, or even pursuing that extra hour of sleep that seems so elusive in the first week in June.
This year, though, I agreed to lead some heme/onc fellows, along with my friend Dr. Shirish Gadgeel, on what ASCO called a “Fellow Poster Walk Discussion Session.” And so we found ourselves in the Trainee & Active Junior Lounge at 7:45am on Monday, surrounded by about eight or 10 fellows, trying to impart some wisdom about how to navigate the poster session. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a tremendously rewarding morning. For one thing, this year ASCO placed the posters chosen for Poster Discussion into the general session, so we had some real practice-changing studies to see and discuss. But more than that it (re)opened my eyes to how much fun the poster session really can be if you concentrate on making the most of it.
Here are some of the pearls that were gleaned from the session. (Some may be attributed to Dr. Gadgeel. If you don’t agree with the advice, it definitely came from him).
- Plan ahead. Make sure you go through the Meeting Program ahead of time and mark the posters you are really interested in so you can be sure not to miss them among the hundreds of others there.
- Download a barcode/QR code scanning app. Many posters will have a barcode on them to allow viewers to access the PDF of the poster with their smartphone. I use ScanLife, which is free, but there are many others available. Don’t forget that many posters are also available for viewing on ASCO's Virtual Meeting!
- Go early. If you want to meet the presenter, often a major person in your field of interest, you should be there in the first hour, as that person may wander off to see the posters him/herself.
- Don’t be shy. Walk right up and introduce yourself, and feel free to ask presenters to explain their poster to you. Most get bored from standing in one spot while people peer at their poster without speaking, and welcome the chance to explain their findings.
- Make connections. If someone else is working on the same thing you are, chances are they are looking for someone to talk about it with and possibly even collaborate. Remember that most of the year these people are among their own local circle of colleagues, and they are likely the only ones there who do what they do. ASCO greatly expands that circle and presents opportunities.
- Network, network, network! Many fellows and junior faculty are searching for jobs, and if you aren’t now you will be soon, so think ahead about where you might want to go and find someone from that center who is presenting. Blind job inquiry emails are scary, but following up on a conversation from ASCO is just strengthening a relationship. Carry business cards with your accurate contact information on them.
These are just a few suggestions that I can remember from the session, which I think was a great success. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!