Attending the American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting for the first time can be both exciting and overwhelming. ASH Clinical News spoke with Surbhi Sidana, MBBS, a third-year fellow in hematology/oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Lisa Baumann-Kreuziger, MD, from BloodCenter of Wisconsin and Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, to find out how they’ve benefited from the annual meeting and what tips they offer to first-time attendees. Dr. Sidana has attended every meeting since 2013, and Dr. Baumann-Kreuziger has attended eight meetings since her first in 2008.
What was your initial impression of the ASH annual meeting?
Surbhi Sidana, MBBS: It was quite overwhelming. I was astonished to see a small welcome band at the New Orleans airport baggage claim. As a second-year internal medicine resident, I did not know much about hematology, so I tried to attend many different sessions. Having friends (other co-residents and fellows from my program) was great, as I could meet familiar faces between sessions.
I found the trainee sessions to be the most helpful and was amazed by how invested ASH leadership is in fostering trainees’ careers. I also was surprised by how many people stopped by our poster and seemed genuinely interested in our work. It was really motivating.
Lisa Baumann-Kreuziger, MD: I was amazed by the size of the meeting and thrilled by the number of physicians interested in the field of hematology.
What do you enjoy most about the meetings?
SS: I still enjoy the trainee sessions the most. Over the years, I have gotten to know people at various institutions, and many of my friends are now training or working at other places; the ASH annual meeting is a great time to catch up with them.
LBK: I have a wonderful group of friends and colleagues from around the world. The ASH annual meeting allows me to hear their research, connect with them, and develop collaborations.
Has attending the meeting helped you in your career?
SS: It has helped me tremendously. I have had the opportunity to present my work, and the poster sessions are a great place to network. Attending the sessions geared toward trainees – especially the roundtable lunches – and hearing how some successful people planned their careers has helped me create my own “big picture” career plan. I have also had the opportunity to attend sessions by leaders in my field of interest and meet them. I think it played a part in the fellowship program I chose.
LBK: I have met several mentors through the ASH annual meeting, which has led to research projects, manuscripts, and speaking engagements. This has led to other opportunities, including starting the Venous thromboEmbolism Network US (VENUS), a clinical research network focused on venous thromboembolism.
Do you have tips for navigating the meeting?
SS: Initially, after trying to attend everything I physically could, I realized that was not a good strategy. I wish someone had told me that before. Now, I stick to the trainee sessions and select sessions in my field of interest.
LBK: Plan your schedule so you don’t miss important sessions. Mark down the oral abstracts in your area of hematology first. Look at the education sessions and rank them based on your interest. If you miss one, check out the ASH Education Program. Many pharmaceutical companies and other hemostasis and thrombosis groups offer additional educational events that require registration ahead of time. Watch for email alerts because the sessions fill up quickly!
Bring comfortable shoes because you can walk for miles in the conference center. Stay in a hotel that offers breakfast and is close to the conference center, if possible. The lines for coffee at the conference center are long, so caffeinate before you arrive in morning. There are appetizers at the poster sessions and often at the university events. Plan at least one dinner with friends and/or mentors or else you will eat appetizers for dinner for the entire meeting! Also, be aware if your institution or state has restrictions regarding attendance at pharmaceutical-sponsored events.
Why should trainees/fellows attend the meeting? Do you have any general advice for first-time attendees?
SS: For a medical student or resident, the ASH annual meeting is a great opportunity to see what hematology is all about and meet prospective colleagues. Fellows can really focus on their field of interest and forge connections for future collaborations.
I would recommend that all first-time attendees go through the program beforehand to decide on sessions they would like to attend and download the meeting app. Having an agenda is helpful. The trainee sessions are a great place to start. I also suggest getting the virtual meeting subscription as it allows you to watch all of the education sessions later. It is heavily discounted for trainees, and fellows can use their annual credit from Fundamentals of Hematology for Fellows (FHF) to get it for free!
LBK: Attending the ASH annual meeting allows you to hear cutting-edge research, discuss projects, and develop collaborations. Networking is important in academic medicine. The people you meet may be your future boss, collaborator, or manuscript or grant reviewer.
If you are starting to look for positions, email people and set up meetings during the conference. If there is a researcher whose work you are interested in, see if they are presenting a poster. Introduce yourself and ask a question. Bring business cards if you have them. Ask your mentor to walk around with you and introduce you to other colleagues. If you are presenting a poster, make copies to hand out to people that include your email address. Most importantly, follow up with people after the meeting.
Attend Trainee Day and other trainee sessions and events; these are great ways to meet mentors and trainees from other institutions. I also recommend attending the Networking Reception for Female Hematologists and Promoting Minorities in Hematology Presentations and Reception. These are great opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with leaders in the field.