Making the Most of the ASCO Annual Meeting at Every Career Stage: Tips for Students, Trainees, and Early-Career Oncologists

Apr 24, 2024

The ASCO Annual Meeting is an important opportunity for students, trainees, and early-career oncology professionals to build community, learn about practice-changing science, and develop their careers. Three members share their advice on how to plan your schedule, make connections, and enjoy your time in Chicago.  

Tips for Medical Students 

Jessica Aduwo is a third-year medical student at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.  
How many times have you been to the ASCO Annual Meeting? 
JA: I first heard about the ASCO Annual Meeting when I participated in the 2021 ASCO Oncology Summer Internship (OSI). During the internship, I had the opportunity to observe different oncology specialties such as radiation oncology, surgical oncology, and hematology-oncology. I was intrigued by radiation oncology and my interest in the field grew with every patient encounter. I have been to the ASCO Annual Meeting twice now, in 2022 and 2023. 
What onsite opportunities and events do you prioritize? 
JA: As a first-time attendee, I felt overwhelmed by the numerous sessions. Therefore, I prioritized attending sessions that focused on my career interests: radiation oncology, global health, and clinical research. 
What is the best part of the Annual Meeting? 
JA: The best part was connecting with underrepresented-in-medicine physicians in the specialty that I am interested in pursuing. I reconnected with a couple of Black radiation oncologists I first met through the OSI. Although radiation oncology representation is smaller in comparison at the ASCO Annual Meeting, there is a sense of community and connection among the radiation oncologists which was beautiful to witness.  
How do you meet people and establish new connections throughout the meeting? 
JA: I participated in the OSI in 2021; during the internship, we had Zoom education sessions led by many oncology professionals. I sent a follow-up email to some of the physicians from the sessions prior to the Annual Meeting. I also followed up with some of the radiation oncologists, including my assigned OSI mentor, who introduced me to some of her colleagues during the conference. It was a good opportunity to network and build relationships that could support me in my career development.  
What must-see/must-do experiences in Chicago do you recommend?  
JA: I would have loved to explore the city more. I would like to visit Skydeck Chicago, at the top of the Willis Tower. 
What advice would you give to a medical student to help them make the most of the ASCO Annual Meeting? 
JA: I would suggest connecting with physicians prior to the conference to see if you can set up a meeting to connect in-person while at the ASCO Annual Meeting. 

Tips for Fellows and Trainees 

Ivy Riano, MD, is a third-year hematology and oncology fellow and research chief fellow at Dartmouth Cancer Center and instructor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth. Next summer, she will transition into her first faculty position as a thoracic oncologist. Dr. Riano is a member of the ASCO Trainee & Early-Career Advisory Group. 
How many times have you been to the ASCO Annual Meeting? 
IR: I have attended four ASCO Annual Meetings—two virtual meetings, due to the pandemic, and two in person. ASCO24 is definitively on my agenda! 
What onsite opportunities and events do you prioritize? 
IR: During the Annual Meeting, I always try to learn new things, grow professionally, and have fun with my colleagues!  
Learn new things: It is important for me to attend key presentations and look for abstracts that present relevant research in my specialty area. The ASCO Annual Meeting agenda is extensive, and it can be difficult to decide what is right for you during the meeting. I strongly suggest checking out the program in advance and making your schedule based on your interests. I always include the Plenary Session and oral poster presentations in my agenda to learn how to effectively communicate scientific information. I also make room for poster walks to interact one-on-one with oncologists during the poster sessions and start new connections. Since it is not possible to attend all sessions, and schedules sometimes conflict, I make sure the sessions I am interested in are going to be available online to watch later. 
Grow professionally: I find the career development discussions at the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge and Women’s Networking Center very helpful. I encourage everyone to sign up for a one-to-one mentoring session. Due to its popularity, mentor spots will fill up fast, so do not feel disappointed if you are paired with a mentor with a different area of expertise. In my experience, two mentors with different backgrounds gave me good advice when negotiating a job contract! It is also important to know what to expect from this experience. Are you looking for career advice, research funding, or job opportunities? Prepare your questions in advance, as there is limited time, and do not forget to follow up via email. 
Have fun: You can have a social life during the Annual Meeting! Spend time with colleagues in a different environment, and catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while or friends visiting from other countries. Do not hesitate to attend all the events or receptions you can! And enjoy the vibrant city of Chicago! 
What is the best part of the Annual Meeting, and what’s the most challenging? 
IR: One of the best aspects of the Annual Meeting is having all the oncology scientific advancements in one place at the same time. It’s always exciting to anticipate breakthrough results and practice-changing clinical trials to advance cancer care for our patients. It is also a rich learning experience interacting with other oncologists and cancer researchers from all over the world, with diverse backgrounds. In addition, hearing patient advocates gives me a new perspective on our profession, often one I’ve not considered. The Annual Meeting definitively ignites your scientific curiosity as a trainee as you feel inspired by others’ work. 
As the ASCO Annual Meeting offers a variety of simultaneous events, this may seem overwhelming, especially for first-time attendees. To avoid this challenge, it is important to plan in advance. Consider traffic time and lines while getting beverages or meals. Prices in Chicago can be expensive, especially if your training program only covers a limited amount of expenses. So, I recommend trying to book your hotel as soon as possible, take advantage of the free shuttles to and from McCormick Place, and bring snacks. You can get free coffee at the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge!  
How do you meet people and establish new connections throughout the meeting? 
IR: The Networking Lounges are great opportunities for establishing new relationships with potential mentors and peers from different institutions. My top three lounges at the Annual Meeting are:  
  1. Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge: I found this lounge particularly valuable because it offers students, residents, fellows, and early-career oncologists the opportunity to engage with senior oncologists on a variety of career-related topics. By participating in panel discussions and round tables, I have built meaningful relationships and friendships, which facilitate my collaboration with new projects.  
  2. Women’s Networking Center: This is a space designed for women by women. I recommend signing up for the one-to-one mentoring program. Thanks to a mentor I met in this lounge, I got a job interview invitation!  
  3. Conquer Cancer Donor Lounge: Every year, I can’t wait for the Women Who Conquer Cancer events, particularly the one dedicated to the Latina women in oncology. This is a great place to connect with peers and inspirational women who promote both ethnic and gender equity in cancer research. 
The Communities of Practice (CoP) are also a fantastic opportunity to foster networking with others who share your passions and career goals. It is convenient since it is available virtually all year long, with the option to meet onsite during the Annual Meeting. Personally, joining the International Medical Graduate (IMG) CoP has been a rewarding experience. I recommend identifying the CoP that best suits your special areas of interest (e.g., geriatric oncology, global oncology, palliative care, medical education, survivorship, among others). View the list of CoPs, along with meeting dates and times
What must-see/must-do experiences in Chicago do you recommend?  
IR: Art is something I love, so I recommend visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. This is an incredibly large and diverse world-class museum exhibiting artwork from every corner of the globe. The museum is enormous, but on a quick 1- to 2-hour break from McCormick Place, you can still see some of its most famous paintings. You must see A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, one of the most famous paintings of all time! The museum also features Water Lilies by Claude Monet, The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh, and, of course, some of the most iconic works of American art, including American Gothic by Grant Wood and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. This is a great way to spice up your Chicago trip! 
What advice would you give to an oncology trainee to help them make the most of the ASCO Annual Meeting? 
IR: Don’t be shy, find the people you want to meet and introduce yourself, select the sessions of your interest, get a free coffee at the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge, sign up for a one-to-one mentoring session, attend one CoP meeting, talk with a patient advocate, take a poster walk, and wear formal but comfy clothes! Last but not least, do something fun while you are in Chicago! 

Tips for Early-Career Oncologists 

Camila Bragança Xavier, MD, is an early-career medical oncologist currently residing in Brazil; she is in the process of relocating to the United States to pursue an advanced fellowship. Dr. Xavier serves on the ASCO Trainee & Early-Career Advisory Group. 
How many times have you been to the ASCO Annual Meeting? 
CX: It has been 2 years since I concluded my medical oncology fellowship, and during this time, I have attended the ASCO Annual Meeting in person twice. 
What onsite opportunities and events do you prioritize? 
CX: As most of the regular sessions are recorded and can be viewed later, my priority is always to attend in-person meetings. I consistently participate in the meetings of the focused groups I am a part of, such as the ASCO Trainee & Early-Career Advisory Group. Additionally, I try my best to attend poster sessions as they provide a great opportunity to connect with colleagues, discuss their work, and gain an overview of the current research landscape. Moreover, I plan to meet friends and mentors from various parts of the globe, share a coffee, and explore networking opportunities. Finally, I would surely attend the Plenary Session, where the most impactful work of the conference will be presented.  
What is the best part of the Annual Meeting? 
CX: The best aspect, by far, is the enriching interactions between diverse individuals from across the globe. I really have a great time meeting people and engaging in meaningful conversations about potential career opportunities. The most challenging aspect is to organize the schedule and make sure you are not spending time in lonely or unproductive situations. The ASCO Annual Meeting website provides a “my agenda” area where you can tag the sessions you want to attend and share it with colleagues. Also, McCormick Place can be an overwhelming venue, and being comfortable demands a strategic approach. Make sure to know the location of key places like the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge, where you can take a seat, recharge your phone, and have something to eat. To save time, always carry a snack and water bottle because food lines can be massive! One additional tip is to take a look at the ASCO free shuttle routes. They have regular pick-up spots at hotels all over the city and offer a faster and more economical transportation option to and from the conference compared to using a taxi or Uber. 
How do you meet people and establish new connections throughout the meeting? 
CX: The ASCO Trainee & Early-Career Advisory Group is a great facilitator for making new connections. As we collaborate in various sections that receive numerous guests throughout the day, you get to know a lot of new people. The one-on-one meetings organized by the advisory group are also excellent opportunities to meet people. Finally, if there’s someone I want to meet, I try to email them beforehand introducing myself and asking if they are free to grab a coffee sometime. If you make the effort, you will be surprised at how open people are to meeting others at the conference! 
What must-see/must-do experiences in Chicago do you recommend?  
CX: One of the classic experiences in Chicago is taking a walk along the Chicago Riverwalk. The pathway covers 1.25 miles through the heart of the city, it is free to the public, and remains open until late hours. Also located in the city center, you have the Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879, which is one of the oldest art museums in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. For the sports enthusiasts, you can run or cycle (there are bike rental spots) along the scenic 18-mile paved Lakefront Trail that follows the Lake Michigan shoreline. Finally, there are some classic spots to taste the famous Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, such as Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s. These are great options to gather some friends at the end of a busy day!  
What advice would you give to an early-career oncology professional to help them make the most of the ASCO Annual Meeting? 
CX: The key advice, the same I got from friends before my first visit, is to plan ahead! If you live outside the U.S., be aware of the time zone difference and set your calendar to Chicago time. Ensure you get to see all the things you’re eager to explore and meet the fantastic people you’ve been looking forward to connecting with. However, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Always keep in mind that the ASCO Annual Meeting is a wonderful opportunity to make new acquaintances and enjoy every moment to the fullest! 
Back to Top