Belonging to a Club That Would Have Me as a Member

Director of the Leukemia Program at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, and editor-in-chief of ASH Clinical News

Even though I had practiced my oral presentation a bunch of times, I still cringed when the session moderator announced the abstract number, title, and my name as the presenter, calling me to the stage at precisely 3:45 p.m. No matter how many times you’re fortunate enough to be invited to present your research at the ASH annual meeting – and for me, it hasn’t been that often – you still get nervous during that long, quiet walk, and hope against hope that you won’t be the guy who trips while climbing up the stairs.

As I moved toward the stage, looking down to ensure my feet didn’t get tangled in the electrical wires taped to the floor, the moderator (a colleague) made a smart-aleck remark about me into the microphone. I got to the lectern just in time to return the favor. A few people in the audience laughed, but the remark threw me enough that I forgot to thank everyone I intended to before speaking — I just launched into my presentation. Fortunately, it went fairly seamlessly and the questions afterward were harmless. I left New Orleans thinking the presentation, all in all, had been a success.

Or so I thought.

Back at the ranch, I had my standing meeting with the cancer center director. He’s the type of boss who actually attends the oral presentations and posters of his staff and our institution’s fellows to recognize their work and show support. Not many bosses take the time to do that, and it means a lot.

“I went to your talk, at ASH,” he said from the other side of the round table in his office. He wasn’t the type to sit across a desk from people.

“Yeah, I saw you, thanks so much, I really appreciated it,” I answered. And then, almost as a second thought, I asked, “What did you think?”

He considered this for a few seconds. As I waited for him to answer, snow started to fall outside his office window, making it very clear how far we were from New Orleans.

“The moderator joked around with you before you started speaking. I’m guessing he’s a friend of yours?” he asked.

“Sure he is,” I answered, after making the assumption he didn’t mean “friend of yours” the way the wiseguys mean it in the movie Goodfellas (or, for that matter, in my mafia-entrenched birth state of Rhode Island).

“As I watched the both of you, I thought about the people in the audience with me who weren’t up on stage,” he said. “Some probably submitted abstracts that didn’t get accepted, despite working really hard on them and doing good research. Some did have abstracts accepted as posters, but were hoping for an oral presentation. And maybe some were hoping that they would be asked to review abstracts and moderate a session, but weren’t.”

I agreed with him as I sank lower in my chair, deflated.

“I’m not sure there’s much you could have done differently when he teased you like that,” he continued. “Just keep in mind that to a lot of people, being on stage at ASH is like being a member of a club. Remember what it was like for you before you made it up there and how hard it was to break into that club. You might want to go out of your way to be inclusive, to open doors for other people, to make the ASH meeting less of a club.”

I left his office mulling over what he had said. It had taken years for me to get to know the leaders in my field, and it took a lot of rejected abstracts and manuscripts before a few were accepted. Some of that was just simply learning how to conduct research and ask the right questions, and, I had to admit, some of it was just knowing the right people.

When I joined ASH Clinical News, I vowed we would make this magazine interesting, accessible, and inclusive. This is a venue to reflect the opinions and voices of our readers, and not a showcase for the entitled in hematology.

Groucho Marx once quipped, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Well, we have no stage, and there is no club.

But I still may be a klutz.

So, if we trip on some stairs, or our feet get tangled in some wires, let us know at [email protected].


The content of the Editor’s Corner is the opinion of the author and does not represent the official position of the American Society of Hematology unless so stated.

Have a comment about this editorial? Let us know what you think; we welcome your feedback. Email the editor at [email protected].

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