Attending Professional Meetings for Beginners

I’m attending the American Surgical Association meeting, which got me thinking about some of the first meetings I ever attended.  Professional meetings are part of the job – and are a wonderful “perk” for physicians.  It’s a time when you can have dinner with an old friend and catch up, hear colleagues present their best work, learn about new aspects of your field.. BUT –  It’s a little intimidating for students and residents, so I thought I’d pass on some thoughts that might help if you haven’t done this before.

Why physicians attend professional meetings

1.  To learn new information.  The advantage of a meeting (over just reading)  is to be able to ask questions and talk to the people who did the work.  Asking questions at a meeting is an artform – make sure you watch a few people first.  There is always at least one person who feels like they need to make a comment or ask a question on just about every topic…. don’t be that person.  When you get up all the time, it’s really more about showing off, not learning.  On the other hand – don’t hesitate to ask questions if you really want to know the answer!  You can also go up to the presenter after the session and ask the question in person.

2. To network.  This is particularly important early in your career.  Be social and introduce yourself!   If you are attending the meeting on your own, this will be harder.  If  (as is usually the case) you are there with senior residents or faculty, they should go out of their way to introduce you to people.   If they don’t volunteer to introduce you, ask them!

3. To socialize.  With time, this becomes one of the most important parts of meetings.  This is where friendships and connections are made that go beyond networking.   The depth of these friendships is a treasure…. so work on them early and nuture them.

Tricks and “rules” for attending meetings

1.  Assume that you will be sitting next to your future boss on the plane.  (i.e. don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt)

2.  Assume that your luggage will be lost.  (see Rule #1)

3.  Find out if there is a dressy event.  It’s not very common, but there are still organizations that have a black tie dinner.  It’s not a good idea to find this out at the meeting!

3.  If you are a new member, make sure you meet the officers and volunteer to serve on committees. Get involved.  Many professional organizations have a need for students and residents on committees.  Even if they don’t – I’ve never seen an organization that wasn’t delighted to have you attend the meeting.

4.  After you make your reservations for the flight and the hotel, look up interesting restaurants within a taxi ride of the meeting.  Here’s what happens at meetings.  It’s 5 o.clock and the meeting ends.  Everyone ends up in the bar or mingling outside the room and the conversation starts… “Do you have any plans for dinner?” … “Do you want to try to eat together?”  and…. because you are probably in a fairly large city… there is no way to get a last minute reservation at any decent place.  SO – everyone ends up eating in the Marriott.  Here’s Plan B:  As soon as you know you are going to a meeting (and have done the research), make a reservation for 8 at a good restaurant for every night of the meeting.  When the conversation starts at 5pm you can say “I have reservations at TheBestRestaurantNearHere… would you like to join me?”  You look like a superstar… and everyone has a great dinner!

5.  Enjoy yourself.  This is one of the perks.  You are in the company of friends who are doing the same work you are… and appreciate the work you are doing.

1 thought on “Attending Professional Meetings for Beginners

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! I met you at the American Surgical Association women’s breakfast, which was such a wonderful experience for me.

    I have to echo everything in this post. This is my second year as a research resident in surgery, and I’ve been to almost 10 meetings so far! I love to be able to see people present their work, then you start to recognize those people at the next meeting. It’s an amazing feeling when you walk into a big room full of accomplished people and you recognize them without seeing their nametags! And when you have a great mentor, they introduce you to their friends and colleagues, so more people know you at the next meeting. And you never know which of these people might be hiring you someday!

    I still have a pretty hard time introducing myself to attendings on my own, though, because I don’t want to be too forward. Any suggestions?

    Thanks again for a great website!

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