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Attending Conferences During Fellowship: A Hematology and Oncology Fellows Network (HOFN) Twitter Spaces Conversation

Hematopoiesis Career AdviceThe Hematology and Oncology Fellows Network (HOFN) is a newly founded Twitter account that seeks to create an online support network of hematology and oncology fellows and to organize discussions among fellows about the training experience. In this article, we summarize and expand upon a discussion initially held on August 17 using a new live audio group discussion platform on Twitter known as Twitter Spaces, on how to maximize participation in hematology conferences as a fellow. The session was organized by the HOFN (@hemoncfellows) and moderated by Dr. Muhammad Salman Faisal. Dr. Samer Al Hadidi, an assistant professor at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, answered the questions during the discussion.

Question: What are the major conferences that should be considered by hematology fellows?

Answer: The three major conferences include the ASH annual meeting, which takes place in early December; the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in early June; and the tandem meeting of the American Society of Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (ASTCT) and the Center of International Bone Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR), which occurs in February. There are many other disease-specific conferences that take place throughout the year that fellows might find helpful as they decide on their desired field.

Q: What should fellows consider before attending a conference?

A: Firstly, clinical duties take priority over attending conferences. Discussion with program directors and administrators may provide the ability to get certain time allotted for conferences, although this is not always possible. I could not attend my first ASH annual meeting as a fellow because I had multiple clinical duties and was adjusting to a new institution. The ASCO meeting can be easier to attend for first-year fellows because it is in June, which is close to the end of their first year of fellowship. Overall, it can be easier to attend conferences later in fellowship. Additionally, fellows should ask their program about funds or other means to support fellows with conference registration and travel. Fellows can also look for scholarship programs provided by the societies hosting these conferences.

Q: What is your advice on abstract submissions and opportunities for awards as trainees?

A: When considering abstract submission, deadlines are crucial. For ASH and ASCO, the submission deadlines are approximately four months before the conferences. There are multiple trainee-specific opportunities and career development awards specifically designed for fellows that can help fund registration and travel fees. ASCO offers a $1,000 award and similarly, ASH offers multiple awards for fellows and medical students and residents. ASH allows for one free registration for fellows in training who are enrolled in the ASH Fundamentals for Hematology Fellows (FHF) program. The American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) also offers multiple research awards and fellowships. Another opportunity consists of industry-association partnership awards. These awards are all very competitive but achievable. Likewise, the specialty meetings also offer awards, which can be less competitive.

Q: How do you plan to maximize your educational experience at each conference?

A: There are many educational sessions at major hematology conferences. You should review the conference content and prioritize presentations based on individual interests, high-impact discoveries, and plenary sessions. Attending parts of the conference with your mentor or principal investigator can help ensure you attend the high-yield sessions. Educational sessions like ASH-a-Palooza are beneficial for fellows to attend. Many conferences, including ASH, have mobile apps that help attendees organize their conference program through several features, including a calendar where you can add sessions to your schedule and plan out your days ahead of time. The apps also include search functions, which allow you to sort for specific topics or speakers.

Q: What are some mentorship opportunities available in the major conferences?

A: Meeting with mentors, fellows, and other attendees is one of the most fruitful aspects of major conferences. Ask mentors to introduce you to leaders in the field from other institutions. Fellows can have one-on-one meetings with mentors in the trainee lounges available at meetings like the ASH annual meeting and ASCO conference. You should prepare questions and discussion topics prior to these meetings with both short-term and long-term goals in mind.

Q: What are some advantages and disadvantages of virtual conferences?

A: Due to multiple restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an increase in utilization of virtual platforms for research conferences. For example, the ASCO meeting was virtual in 2020 and 2021, and the ASH annual meeting was virtual in 2020. The advantages of virtual conferences are vast: You can attend from home, review the content at your own pace, avoid running between conference rooms, and often access material for a longer time following the meeting. On the other hand, there are multiple drawbacks, such as higher chance of distraction, long hours in front of a computer, and fewer opportunities for one-on-one conversations and networking. I personally prefer attending in person, but given the virtual nature of many conferences, societies are continuing to develop ways to virtually connect individuals in smaller groups and more intimate settings.

Q: What was your takeaway message from this talk (August 17)?

A: Do not be intimidated by the many conference opportunities. Attend what you can and prioritize major conferences as a fellow, as they are fun and highly educational. Allow your conference attendance to change as your career evolves. Make the most out of conferences by attending educational sessions, mentorship seminars, and interest-specific discussions. Networking is crucial at conferences, and these conversations can lead to collaborations that ultimately impact your career.