Attending scientific conferences is one of my favorite things about being a graduate student. I get the opportunity to hear what is hot in the field, who is leading the charge and how they’re doing it.
As a genetics student, I’m partial to the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) conference, an annual meeting dedicated to highlighting science in all areas related to human genetics. This year, ASHG 2015 will be held close to home, at the Baltimore Convention Center. The conference will run from Oct. 6–10, and it is expected to attract thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibiting companies.
These conferences are also excellent opportunities for students to present their own work in the form of either poster or oral presentations. Distilling months — and sometimes years — of research into a 3-by-4-foot poster or 10-minute talk is a careful craft. Here is a brief glimpse behind the scenes of my own preparations:
Two days before abstract deadline:
I work feverishly to finish the necessary experiments, all the while cursing my unbeatable aptitude for procrastination. Meanwhile, I finally begin actually writing the abstract. It doesn’t have to be perfect, so it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes — maybe an hour tops. Right?
Close to five hours later, I email the abstract draft to my principal investigator. I also send the abstract to all of the associated authors to let them know that the work is being presented and to ask for comments and suggestions.
Day of abstract deadline:
The abstract draft has been passed back and forth like a pingpong ball, but I get it edited just one more time. The 2,000-character limit seems so much more restricting now as I remove any expendable words. We tweak the wording of the title to be even more concise, making sure it encapsulates the scientific essence of the work.
Two hours before the deadline, I begin to fill out the online submission form with exorbitant details about the institution and all of the authors. At last, I paste the 19th version of the abstract into its submission slot. After reading and re-reading yet again to check for spelling errors and pesky format changes, we take a collective deep breath and click “Submit.”
Reading the confirmation email five minutes later, we immediately spot a typo, naturally.
Two months before conference presentation:
With the sheer amount of submissions ASHG receives, it can take a while to hear if an abstract is accepted. After just enough time for me to forget about the conference altogether, an email notification pops up: The abstract was accepted and assigned to a time slot. After celebratory “Hoorays!” all around, we check our colleagues’ assignments to congratulate them and coordinate schedules so we can be there to support each other’s presentations.
Two weeks before presentation:
Mild panic laced with excitement sets in as I realize there are only 14 days before the conference. For many expert and/or lucky individuals, last-minute experiments turn out beautifully, and the story coalesces together seamlessly. For some unlucky individuals — myself humbly included — Murphy’s Law seems to take over, and experiments have to be repeated yet again because of inexplicable malfunctions. But I keep moving forward, making sure every bit of data is solid and the story is cohesive.
One week before presentation:
Now it’s time to design the posters and put the talk together. No matter the format, the goal is to share our research meaningfully with other members of the scientific community. Poster presentations are limited by dimensions, and talks are limited by time, so we rearrange figures, remove unnecessary tables and create schematics to aid in the storytelling of our science.
As the presenting author, I carry the onus to represent my lab and our research appropriately at these meetings. So I practice carefully with anyone willing to listen. Nerves run high, but I am excited to tell the story of my research.
To find out how the presentations turn out, be sure to look for Xuan’s follow-up article after ASHG!