Traveling for Science: Jason LeGrand writes on attending the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology

Annual meetings for large scientific societies are a bit like 3-ring circuses. There is a lot going on at any given moment, and despite even the best planning, it is almost impossible to take it all in. With its acclaimed 20,000 attendees, the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) is one of the largest meetings focused on the science and medicine of blood disorders and malignancies. Every year in early December, it draws a very diverse international crowd, ranging from clinicians and basic scientists to educators and entrepreneurs, for a four day conference at a US venue that rotates around the country.

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The 2014 meeting in San Francisco was my first time attending the annual ASH meeting and I had such a great experience that I regret not going to past annual meetings earlier in the graduate phase of my training. Of course, there were practical reasons for why I had not gone before such as the cost which for this conference was about $1,500 when totaled. However, the knowledge and cutting edge insight presented at the meetings would certainly have helped that first year in the lab as I was getting oriented to acute myeloid leukemia research. Although the ASH meeting covers a range of hematology topics, leukemia research is a major focus making it possible to get a much better overview of the field than could be achieved at a more general meeting such as the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting that includes the entire spectrum of cancers.

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There is a strong educational training component to the ASH meeting that is manifested by half-day workshops the day before the meeting begins covering topics like myeloid development for those new to the field. ASH also commissions a collection of review and perspective articles on various hematology topics each year and makes them available as an education book to its members at the meeting. The society also engages its members-in-training by hosting special seminars on topics such as how to navigate the transition from trainee to investigator, salary negotiation, and where to find funding for career development. There are also events that allow trainees to meet and converse with society members who are considered leaders in their respective fields. MDs can also find unique training opportunities with sessions focused on how experts in a particular disease treat and manage it in the clinic.

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In fact, I think that one of the most under-appreciated aspects of the annual ASH meeting is that it draws both PhDs and MDs in large numbers to the same event. Although it is true that the clinic and the lab are still treated as somewhat separate worlds at the meeting, with one session focusing on clinical aspects and another on laboratory experimentation, I thought it was very interesting to be able to see PhDs talk about disease models strategies for therapy in one room and then be able to cross the hall and see how those models and strategies were or (more commonly) were not reflected in data from actual patients.

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As you can surmise, there was way more at the ASH meeting than I could possibly see in four days despite the fact that all the general scientific sessions were repeated on alternate days. At times this created the dilemma of whether to stick with attending the AML sessions or to branch out and explore the latest from other areas such as the immunotherapies that I have been enthusiastic about. Of course, even the most exciting meetings will wear you out after a couple days, and by the afternoon of the third day, I was more eager to explore San Francisco than sit in on another talk. San Francisco is an interesting place, and I did get the chance to explore the area around the Moscone center where the meeting was taking place. However, I am sad to say that I did not get to see most of what I originally intended to explore, including the Golden Gate Bridge, but that just gives me a reason to go back.

-Jason LeGrand (GS-4)

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