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Why Go to the ATS International Conference?

March 2004

With the 100th International Conference of the American Thoracic Society coming up, I thought that this might be a good time to talk about the importance of going to meetings and how to make the most of them once you’re there. I’ve been going to the ATS conference since I was a fellow and look forward to the meeting every year. It has always been a fun, productive time, but it can also be maddening, overwhelming and exhausting. This month’s column discusses the importance of national meetings such as the ATS International Conference. Next month, we’ll focus on preparing for and attending the meeting.

So, why go? In a nutshell, because it is the single best way to make connections and to see what is really going on in pulmonary medicine. Attending a professional meeting allows you to:

  1. Network
    Whether it be in front of a poster discussing research results and techniques, a Meet the Professor seminar, an assembly meeting or even lunch at a local café, national meetings such as the one by ATS provide an extraordinary opportunity to make new professional contacts as well as catch up with old friends. You don’t have to be an extrovert, just open to opportunity. Often, it is during impromptu hallway discussions that the most meaningful information is exchanged. Meeting just one new person can make all the difference in a struggling project or career. That person may help you obtain a critical reagent or give you a piece of valuable advice regarding career advancement. Making personal connections with staff members at public and private funding agencies can facilitate your grant applications and enable you to get the latest information on available funding. You may learn about a grant that you didn’t know you were eligible for.
  2. Learn about the Latest Developments in Pulmonary Medicine and Science
    The conference’s international reputation draws researchers and clinicians from all over the world. This gives you a chance to find out what’s going on in your field, be it clinical or basic research. Find out what the leaders in the field are thinking. Great care goes into selecting speakers for the symposia and invited lectures highlighted at the meeting. Find out what’s being funded and what’s not! This is also a great opportunity for cross-fertilization. With just a little advance preparation and studying the program ahead of time, you can learn what others are doing in fields not directly related to your own and apply this knowledge to your own work.
  3. Present Your Work to Your Peers
    We’ve discussed the importance of presentations in previous columns. The corollary to this is that presenting at national meetings enables you to get insightful feedback on your work. Poster presentations offer a unique opportunity to interact informally with a large number of people in your field and engage in meaningful discussions. For junior investigators there is no better way to start networking.

The conference provides a multitude of clinical and basic scientific sessions. The following links are useful to get an idea of what is available:
Program At A Glance, Medical Education and Scientific Sessions, and Specialty Tracks

Some Events at the ATS International Conference:

Postgraduate courses:
A fairly recent addition to the ATS conference menu, but now an anticipated tradition. The postgraduate courses are 1/2 day or day-long didactic sessions that focus on specific areas in pulmonary medicine and science. Typically, they feature a set of carefully selected speakers from specific fields. This year’s topics range from the Pathogenesis and Management of Sepsis to Molecular Cell Biology for Lung Researchers. The postgraduate courses require additional registration and are held during the first two days prior to start of the official meeting.

Lectures: Amberson Lecture/Trudeau Medal/ATS Awards
These lectures and awards honor individuals who have made major contributions to pulmonary medicine. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear from the “giants” in our field. It is also a chance to get a comprehensive perspective on pulmonary medicine—why we are who we are, how we got here and where we are going.

These are educational sessions programmed by the assemblies that run the gamut and cover clinical, basic, translational and behavioral science. Not as long, nor as didactic as the postgraduate courses, rather more cutting edge by leaders in the respective topics.

Perhaps the heart of the meeting and truly unique, since the oral and poster presentations feature original research. Abstracts are submitted under specific categories that have been assigned to individual assemblies. The assemblies are responsible for reviewing, organizing and programming the abstracts into specific sessions including minisymposia, poster discussion sessions, as well as the thematic poster sessions. These sessions are held each day of the meeting.

Assembly Meetings:
The assemblies are the primary groups of ATS and form the foundation upon which the Society is based. One of the best ways to start getting involved in the ATS is through your assembly. In addition to reviewing and organizing the bulk of the abstract presentations, the program committees of the individual assemblies submit ideas for symposia, as well as informal sessions (see below) held at the meeting.

Meet the Professor and Sunrise Seminars (requires pre-registration):
These informal sessions are given by speakers who are enthusiastic about what they do and are willing to spread the word! Topics are diverse since they represent the individual interests of the speakers. These sessions offer a good opportunity for both the speaker and participants to interact in a collegial setting. Also, a good way for junior people to begin creating a niche for themselves.

Special Interest Events (requires pre-registration):
Diversity Luncheon for Underrepresented Minorities
This year’s luncheon focuses on career development.
Women’s Luncheon
Meet your mentor, enjoy a panel discussion on issues facing women in pulmonary medicine.
Fellows’/Trainees Reception.
A good opportunity to meet the Society’s leaders as well as your fellow fellows!

Funding Agencies: Have you ever wondered just who it is that help review, process and fund contracts and grants? Who and what is a program officer? Staff members from public and private funding agencies attend this meeting as well.

Exhibitors/Equipment manufacturers: Not just a stop for mugs, pens, and bags. These displays offer you a chance to see new equipment and reagents, talk to reps and arrange try-outs, even discounts for equipment and books.

Through ATS, I’ve been privileged to meet a number of very smart, talented and passionate people whom I consider to be both friends and colleagues. During the first few ATS meetings I attended as a fellow, I concentrated on presenting my poster, attending a few scientific sessions and socializing with my fellow fellows. As I have progressed in my career, and my involvement in ATS has grown, I find myself attending more and more meetings during the conference. It remains an enriching experience to which I look forward every year.