May 05, 2022
By Ilana Schlam, MD, Manuel Espinoza Gutarra, MD, and Ana I. Velazquez, MD, MSc
Scientific oncology meetings are a great opportunity for trainees and early-career faculty to learn the latest updates in cancer care and network with potential mentors, collaborators, and prospective employers. However, like everything else in our lives, attending oncology conferences has been different since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have had to adjust our attendance to a virtual format to watch the sessions and to learn how to network from home, which has been an added challenge with impact at multiple levels for trainees and early-career oncologists looking for research and job opportunities. The good news is that in June 2022, the ASCO Annual Meeting will be offered in a hybrid format, giving us the flexibility to join from the comfort of our homes or attend in person for those who are able to travel to Chicago. Here, we want to share with you some ideas for networking either from home or while attending ASCO22 in person so you can make the most of this meeting.
Select your networking priorities. The ASCO Annual Meeting is a very large conference, with over 40,000 participants. It can be overwhelming to decide which sessions to attend and who to meet. Therefore, plan early. Some questions to think about:
- Who would you like to meet?
- What areas of oncology are you most interested in?
- Are you interested in a specific disease or a field of research? Who are the leaders in that field? Whose work do you find interesting?
- What are your current priorities? Are you seeking career advice or connections? Are you looking for a research mentor? Are you searching for an employer? All of the above?
Craft your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a key tool that will allow you to introduce yourself in 30 to 60 seconds and up to 10 sentences.1,2 Make sure to have your elevator pitch ready before the Annual Meeting. It is always good to have something thoughtful ready to say in case you meet someone you would like to collaborate with—this is a great way to open doors and to create a strong first impression.1 The elevator pitch is usually composed of the answers to these four questions2:
- “Who are you?”: Introduce yourself.
- “What is the ask?”: Articulate your goal.
- “What do you add?”: Briefly describe your previous experiences and contributions.
- “How can you take action?”: Have a plan to follow up.
Write your pitch, practice it, and commit to it. Be prepared for follow-up questions, which will usually come if your pitch is successful at being engaging and eliciting interest. These questions might be about your previous work or interests, including specific details about the methodology used. However, your audience may also ask more open-ended questions such as current controversies in your field of interest or probing questions regarding future directions of your research and possible practical applications. Make sure you have a focus, tell a story, and be enthusiastic. Not all questions will have correct answers—when faced with limitations or gaps in knowledge, make sure to acknowledge them and be open to new perspectives.3
Reach out early. The ASCO Annual Meeting is truly a great opportunity to set up informal mentorship and networking meetings, which can range from a 10-minute coffee break between sessions to connecting during an evening reception or setting up a more formal one-on-one meeting time.
Once you’ve identified the specific people you would like to meet, regardless of whether you are planning to attend in person or remotely, reach out beforehand to set up a meeting. How can you reach out? Ask a mentor or friend for an e-introduction or feel empowered to send a “cold email” (you can find contact information for members in the ASCO Member Directory, or send a direct message to other registered meeting participants through the ASCO22 Find a Colleague tool). Contact them at least a couple of weeks before the meeting. Be concise and clear, introduce yourself, your interests, and clearly state your desire and request to meet. Even if you are not attending ASCO22 in person, this is still a great opportunity to inquire about connecting virtually during or pre/post-conference.
Do your homework. Nowadays, it is common for leaders in specific fields not only to have a large body of publicly available scholarly work, but a sizable social media presence as well. Be sure to read up on key highlights of recent work published by opinion leaders in your field of interest, as you are likely to meet them during national conferences like ASCO. Review and read the work of anyone with whom you’ve set up meetings in advance. If possible, think of how your research or interests intersect with theirs to increase the yield of their advice and lay the groundwork for a possible collaboration.
If You’re Attending ASCO22 in Person
Here are some tips on how to make the most of the ASCO Annual Meeting as a trainee if you’re traveling to Chicago to attend in person.
Plan your trip. Book your accommodations or hotel in advance; consider staying with colleagues who may also attend. Review the shuttle route map and anticipate travel times. If you use the shuttle services, use this as an opportunity to meet those sitting next to you. This is one example of how having your elevator pitch ready can come in handy!
Create your schedule. Review the program at meetings.asco.org and decide which sessions
and networking opportunities you are interested in joining. We recommend following one of the disease- or topic-focused tracks and considering the trainee-specific professional development content from the Trainee & Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge. Leverage opportunities like the Grant Writing Workshop organized by ASCO and Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, that are unique to the ASCO Annual Meeting and are very helpful for those considering academic careers.
You can visit meetings.asco.org on any device to create a schedule with the sessions you are planning to attend. If you want to talk to someone presenting in one of the talks, sit close to the front; after the session, you can introduce yourself and ask questions. Having your elevator pitch ready is key to getting the most out of these brief introductions.
The poster sessions are another great opportunity to network, not only with people presenting posters but also with other poster visitors. Ask your mentors in advance if they can introduce you to people you want to connect with during the meeting. Review the Trainee & Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge schedule for Poster Walks and moderated sessions which are good opportunities for brief introductions.
Make connections everywhere. If you are meeting someone after their presentation, for coffee, or in the poster hall, make sure you have an elevator pitch in which you can introduce yourself, tell them your main interests, and perhaps mention a significant project you are working on. Then make sure you explain the reason for the meeting if there is anything specific. This will allow them to get a quick message and perhaps plan for a follow-up meeting or call after ASCO22.
ASCO offers several options for networking at the meeting, including the Trainee & Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge and the Women’s Networking Center. The Trainee & Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge hosts several lectures focused on issues for young professionals, Poster Walks with experts in the field, and one-on-one mentorship sessions. Make sure to review your email and social media to sign up in advance for some of these opportunities. In addition, these lounges are a great place to meet potential mentors and other early-career oncologists with shared interests.
The ASCO Annual Meeting and other professional oncology conferences are also a great moment to connect with patient advocates and advocacy groups. During these interactions, you can share your interests, gauge the group priorities, explore ways in which you can contribute to the group’s mission and goals, establish collaborations, and even attend poster walks with advocates and researchers (i.e., GRASP). You can connect with advocates and groups online prior to the meeting and find some advocacy nonprofit groups at booths in the Exhibit Hall.
Take care of yourself. The ASCO Annual Meeting can be an overwhelming and busy time for everyone, so here are some basic recommendations to take care of yourself during the meeting:
- Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, as you will get your steps in during this conference.
- Stay hydrated, caffeinated, and take breaks to grab your meals. The Trainee & Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge has free coffee, water, and snacks available throughout the meeting.
- Go for a run or walk and enjoy the beauty of summer in Chicago.
- Connect socially with your colleagues and friends from other institutions.
If You’re Joining ASCO22 Remotely
Here are some tips on how to network and make the most of the ASCO Annual Meeting while attending virtually:
Create (and block) your schedule. Even if you are not attending in person, we recommend planning and reviewing the program ahead of time to make the most of the conference and select which live-streamed sessions to watch and participate in. Consider following one of the disease- or topic-focused tracks. Make sure to set up a time to review and scroll through the poster titles so you don’t miss those that you may be most interested in.
One of the added challenges of attending virtual meetings is being able to carve time to watch the sessions while having clinical, research, or other work responsibilities which can distract you from following or engaging in the virtual setting. We recommend blocking off your calendar, canceling or rescheduling any non-urgent meetings and appointments, and setting up an automatic away email message (just like you would if you were traveling) to free your time and increase your ability to focus during the conference.
Network remotely. Networking remotely is challenging, particularly if some of the people you wanted to meet are attending the Annual Meeting in person. Here are some ideas for networking remotely:
- Request meetings with colleagues and experts through the ASCO22 Find a Colleague platform.
- If somebody presents a topic or study that is interesting to you, email them. Introduce yourself, commend their efforts, and explain why you are interested in the study. Ask to meet with them to discuss some ideas or shared interests. While attending virtually has some added challenges, it also gives you time—you don’t have to introduce yourself immediately after the session concludes, you can reach out to the presenters later in the day or week.
- Arrange a virtual watch party. One of the benefits of the pandemic has been the broad adoption of video conferencing platforms. These platforms can be used to communicate and hold meetings and to socialize in group settings. If you have colleagues, collaborators, and mentors with shared interests who are also attending ASCO22 remotely, consider joining a shared video conference session (as Zoom or WebEx) to discuss and analyze new data and studies as they are presented during the meeting.
- Leverage and engage in social media. Twitter is a great tool to network during ASCO. As you watch live sessions, join and engage in conversations with experts in the field, advocates, and the oncology community at large by following and commenting on Twitter. Follow the #ASCO22 hashtag and disease-specific hashtags4 to join the conversation. Use those hashtags to identify individuals and networks who tweet the
newest evidence and follow them. Use this as an opportunity to stay up to date, but also don’t be shy—engage in the conversation by commenting and asking questions. If you are new to Twitter, you can find tips on how to engage in social media as an oncology trainee or early-career professional.5
ASCO22 will be a new experience for many trainees and early-career oncologists who have missed in-person meetings during COVID-19. While the new hybrid format can pose some challenges, it can also increase accessibility for those unable to travel. Whether you are attending in person or remotely, we hope these tips will help you make the most out of your ASCO Annual Meeting experience.
Dr. Schlam is a breast medical oncologist at Tufts Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University. She is a member of the ASCO Trainee and Early Career Advisory Group. Follow Dr. Schlam on Twitter @IlanaSchlam.
Dr. Espinoza Gutarra is a hematology-oncology fellow at Indiana University. He is a member of the ASCO Trainee and Early Career Advisory Group.
Dr. Velazquez is a clinical instructor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Clinician Scholars Program at UCSF. She is currently leading the ASCO Trainee and Early Career Advisory Group and is a member of the ASCO Digital Education Editorial Board. Follow Dr. Velazquez on Twitter @AnaVManana.
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- Dzara K, Kesselheim J. Going Up? Tips for the Medical Educator’s “Elevator Pitch”. Acad Med. 2018;93:1884.
- Lonial S. Give a Great Job Talk: 6 Steps to Impress Your Interviewers. ASCO Connection. Sep 2, 2020.
- Katz MS, Utengen A, Anderson PF, et al. Disease-Specific Hashtags for Online Communication About Cancer Care. JAMA Oncol. 2016;2:392-4.
- Duma N. Connect and Build Your Online Presence: Tips for Using Social Media as an Oncology Trainee or Early-Career Professional. ASCO Connection. Mar 5, 2020.