I just got back from San Francisco, where I attended my first scientific conference: the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH). The conference is massive—over 15 thousand clinicians, researchers, and entrepreneurs descend on the city and take over every Starbucks within walking distance. The scope and nature of ASH can be best understood by its contrast with the small symposium on JMML—the pediatric leukemia I study – that occurred the day before ASH.
The JMML symposium was attended by 65 researchers and physicians, all of whom study this one particular disease. The symposium featured 20 oral presentations, which occurred one after the other in the same room. The presentations were extremely specific and detail-orientated. Very little background was presented, since everyone in the room knew the basics of the disease and the types of models used to study it. Much of the data was unpublished and focused on preliminary results. Overall, the atmosphere was intimate and cordial, old friends engaging in both social and scientific conversations.
ASH, in contrast, is a zoo. At any given time, there may be up to 20 simultaneous sessions. The featured speakers are world-renowned names and they give excellent, well-rehearsed talks that provide a great deal of background information. Much of what is presented, however, is recently-published literature. As such, for an expert in a given field, ASH will not provide much new information. However, the ASH talks are an excellent introduction to a field and the conference itself is very inspiring for those considering a future career in hematology.
Both conferences were fantastic opportunities to meet researchers. At the JMML symposium I met many of the researchers whose work I follow on a weekly basis. I have obtained reagents from several of them and it was a genuine pleasure to talk with them in an intimate setting and have the opportunity to ask them for advice in regards to my studies. ASH, in contrast, provides an opportunity for the bold-hearted to attempt to speak to the big names in the field. Indeed, I was able to corner Dr. Miriam Merad – one of the leaders in the field of macrophage biology – and ask her about her future studies. However, it was not easy to snag her attention and it was clear that her time was limited. Unlike my conversations at the JMML symposium, which did not feel rushed or pressured.
I was honoured to have the opportunity to present my own work at each of the conferences: a poster at ASH and an oral presentation at the JMML symposium. Both were excellent opportunities to obtain feedback and context how they fit into a larger field of study. I left the conferences feeling rejuvenated and with a clearer vision of what experiments I need to perform to complete my story and provide a meaningful contribution to the field. I’m itching to get that work started. But first: time to celebrate Christmas with family in Toronto. I wish all of you Happy Holidays and all the best leading up to the New Year.