Making the most of a virtual meeting


Dear Labby,

I am going to present my undergraduate research at this year’s ASCB|EMBO meeting, Cell Bio Virtual 2020. I have never participated in a scientific conference, although I have participated in science fairs and a research day at my university. It is my turn to be one of the members of my lab to attend and I was really looking forward to this opportunity. This will be my only chance to attend a national conference as an undergraduate. In the past my research mentor invited two or three students to attend the conference with her. Last year when they returned home from the ASCB|EMBO meeting in Washington, they told me what they did and how great the whole meeting was, although it was both nerve wracking and exciting to present at the undergraduate poster competition. They told me it was so special when one of the authors of a paper that we read in class visited their poster in the exhibit hall. They added that the undergraduate poster competition
prepared them for the questions that they were asked when they were on the main floor. This special session also gave them the opportunity to meet and interact with peers and senior scientists and to network. This year I will be presenting my research at the meeting but I am concerned that I won’t get the same opportunities to meet other attendees and/or to discuss my poster with other attendees because the meeting is virtual.

I attend a small university that has fewer students than there would have been attendees at this meeting, and I was also looking forward to visiting a big city, as my university is located in a rural town. Can you help me figure out how to get the most of out of this meeting?

—Virtually Lost

Dear Virtually Lost,

Welcome to the ASCB|EMBO annual meeting. Congratulations are in order, because not many undergraduates have enough data to present at a national/international conference like this. Labby understands your dilemma, because this virtual format is different for all of us. The pandemic is dangerous and required ASCB and EMBO to change the format of the meeting, while attempting to meet the expectations and needs of the attendees. The most effective way to get the most out of this conference is to plan out your activities for each day. As soon as you can, go on the ASCB website and look at the meeting program and read what the meeting has to offer each day. Then read the abstracts of posters in your field.

There will be tools available on the website to help you plan your daily agenda. Labby usually attends the major Symposium talks to learn about other fields, and these presentation are often memorable! There won’t be a real exhibit hall this year, but there will be plenty of opportunities to hear attendees discuss their posters and to “visit” exhibitors. If technical workshops are available, these provide a valuable introduction to the newest methods used to unravel the mysteries of the cell!

Ordinarily, you might have met other attendees by happenstance (at lunch, social mixer, standing in line, etc.), but in this virtual world you will have to be more intentional and the meeting program will help you do that too! While this virtual experience will be different from a face-to-face meeting, the wealth of the sessions and topics covered will most certainly give you the opportunity to meet other scientists, expand your cell biology horizons, and share your research. Labby hopes this meeting is the first of many you will attend as you build your career.


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