By Nandana Rao, PhD
Since becoming a graduate student, I haven’t had the chance to attend an in-person ASHG annual meeting before. I was looking forward to attending ASHG 2022 after the virtual meetings in 2020 and 2021. I had no real sense of the scale of the meeting going in, but when I entered the Los Angeles Convention Center to pick up my registration badge before the Presidential Welcome, I took the crowds of people milling around and having conversations as a sign that a great week was ahead. As a first time ASHG meeting attendee, here were some of my highlights and key takeaways:
- Extra events can be well worth it. During my first evening at ASHG, I attended the trainee reception. I was a little apprehensive at first as no one I knew was attending, but the environment was welcoming and made me feel more comfortable for the week ahead. It was a great way to hear about different graduate programs, research interests, and plans for the conference. I left the evening with new friends that I planned to see later in the week and additional talks and poster sessions on my calendar.
- Sessions outside of my subject area were very useful. I made a point to go to sessions that were outside of my normal interests and not directly relevant to my research. I was pleasantly surprised that I was exposed to new, interesting concepts. It was a nice chance to get out of my comfort zone, broaden my thinking, and get creative about how seemingly unrelated topics might actually be relevant to my research area.
- The ASHG meeting was a nice place to catch up with old friends. One of my favorite parts of the in-person meeting was getting to meet up with people I hadn’t seen in a while and hear about new work and personal developments. Former mentors and colleagues graciously pointed me toward talks of interest and introduced me to other attendees. As I was navigating the meeting for the first time, this was a helpful way to get my bearings.
- The ASHG meeting is also a great chance to meet your research celebrities. Perhaps one of my most memorable moments at the ASHG meeting was when I attended a poster of a researcher whose work greatly interests me. It was exciting to put faces to names I’ve only read in journals and meet the people who have informed some of my current research.
- Free time is necessary. There were so many interesting sessions scheduled throughout the meeting that it initially felt overwhelming moving from session to session and trying to pack in everything marked on my schedule. I quickly learned the art of prioritizing sessions that were most important to me, the benefits of a full stomach, and not to feel guilty if I needed to take a break in the middle of the day.
All in all, my first time at the ASHG annual meeting was one to remember and I’m looking forward to carrying these experiences into the 2023 meeting when I’ll no longer be adding the “first time attendee” ribbon to my name badge.