Navigating Your First ASCO Annual Meeting

Apr 30, 2019

By Surbhi Sidana, MD

The ASCO Annual Meeting attracts over 30,000 delegates from various fields of oncology. Last year about 1,275 members in training attended the meeting. While the meeting offers a wide array of sessions and networking opportunities, the crowds and choices can be overwhelming.

I attended my first ASCO Annual Meeting as a second-year internal medicine resident. I remember being awestruck on entering the convention center with the sheer size of the meeting and the number of people walking about hurriedly. While everyone else seemed to have important sessions and meetings to get to, I did not have much else beyond a poster presentation on my agenda. Luckily, I had several colleagues attending the meeting, including a co-resident who was a first-time attendee as well. Together, we planned an agenda for ourselves and, to our joy, discovered the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge.

Now, having attended the meeting a few more times, here are some suggestions I have for first-time attendees.

Before the Meeting

Plan logistics early. Hotel rooms for the meeting get booked quite early, so consider booking your hotel well in advance. You may consider sharing a room with a friend. Booking one of the conference hotels has the advantage of having assured shuttle transportation to and from the convention center.

Review the meeting program and plan ahead. As there are several sessions going on at any given time, it is helpful to have sessions of interest marked on the meeting’s iPlanner app beforehand. For trainees, I suggest considering sessions on career development, education sessions, and scientific sessions limited to one or two areas of interest. The grant writing workshop organized by ASCO’s Conquer Cancer Foundation is a half-day event that is also extremely useful for those considering an academic career.

Connect with friends/colleagues to see who else is going. The Annual Meeting is a great place to connect with friends at other institutions. Fellows at my program also frequently get together for coffee/lunch and we usually plan an evening out.

During the Meeting

Be prepared for walking. The convention center is huge and your day will involve a lot of walking. Wearing comfortable shoes is helpful. Another thing to keep in mind is to give yourself enough time to get to a meeting/must-attend session.

Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge. The Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge is a fantastic resource for trainees and early-career professionals. It provides a place to relax that is not very crowded and also has free coffee and snacks (which means you can bypass the long lines for coffee elsewhere at the convention center). Most of the career development sessions also take place at the lounge.

Networking. The Annual Meeting is a great place to connect with current fellows/program directors for future fellowship applications, with potential collaborators, and with recruiters to discuss job opportunities. If there are specific people you wish to meet, reach out beforehand to set up a meeting. The Posters area in the Oncology Professionals Hall is also a great place for informal networking.

Notes. It may be helpful to take notes of key takeaways from a presentation or a meeting for later review. Read more about Interact, a digital note-taking tool available during the meeting.

After the Meeting

Meeting Videos and Slides. It is nearly impossible to attend everything that is marked on your calendar. Thankfully, most of the sessions are recorded and available to view later in ASCO’s Meeting Library. Access to the Meeting Videos and Slides from the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting is included in your registration cost. I have found this virtual meeting library to be a great resource.

Follow up with your networking contacts. If you met someone during the meeting for something specific, like a fellowship or job application, remember to follow up with them within a few days after the meeting ends.

Programming for Medical Students and Residents

The Cancer Interest Group Abstract Forum is a two-part event that highlights the work of young researchers from ASCO’s medical student and resident programs, offering them an intimate venue to practice their presentation skills, network with peers, and receive advice on their research from experienced oncologists. All Annual Meeting attendees are welcome. The forum will take place on Saturday, June 1, in McCormick Place’s South Building, Room S103, with oral presentations from 9 AM to 10:30 AM, and poster presentations along with a networking reception from 3 PM to 5 PM.

A special session for medical students and residents on “How to Land Your Dream Residency or Fellowship” will be offered in the Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge (Room S501) on Sunday, June 2, from 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM. This two-part session will feature a panel talk and roundtable discussions with oncology training program directors. Topics covered will include interviewing best practices, how to build your resume, and what to look for when interviewing with an institution.

Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge

Take advantage of this member benefit! The Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge provides students, residents, oncology trainees, and early-career members within 3 years post-training with the opportunity to participate in specialized career development activities and sessions:

  • Receive advice on career advancement by signing up for one-on-one mentoring meetings
  • Participate in informal sessions led by prominent faculty on professional development topics such as presentation skills, navigating the job search, and contract negotiations
  • Join disease-specific Guided Poster Walks
  • Learn from “Cancer Takeaways” sessions that highlight the most groundbreaking science presented during the Annual Meeting

The Trainee and Early-Career Oncologist Member Lounge is also a comfortable space to network with colleagues and enjoy complimentary refreshments throughout the day.

The lounge is located in McCormick Place’s South Building, Room S501. The lounge is open on May 31 from noon to 5:00 PM, and on June 1 through June 3 from 7:30 AM to 5 PM. More information, including a schedule of programming and events in the lounge, is available at and on the iPlanner app.

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