A Battle Plan for Surviving CROI and Other Week-Long Meetings

March 10, 2014

These suggestions will enhance your enjoyment of long meetings and will have your colleagues remarking on what a jolly, friendly person you really are. Ignore the advice at your own peril.

In a companion piece, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly From CROI 2014,” I wrote about the banquet of exceptional material presented at this premier HIV conference. And I also wrote about the downside of getting there and being there, and the more grueling aspects of covering a meeting this rich-and this long.

Here, I offer thoughts and tips for getting the most out of the next week-long medical meeting.

1. Know before arriving, particularly at CROI, that you will not be able to see even 40% of all that is there. Even 25% can be a challenge. Come to terms with that fact early, or be prepared to be disappointed. Under no circumstances should you attempt to run from oral session to oral session to try to catch that one, great, long-awaited presentation, strategically timed for the middle of one session, just after another long-awaited presentation has concluded in a room down the hall or on another floor.

2. Do not feel compelled to spend 10 hours each day at the meeting. Most attendees take off at least a half day, sometimes even 2 half days to catch up on email, work at home, etc. A particularly effective strategy is to plan for a 1 to 2 hour nap sometime during each day. It is much better to be well-rested when attending the sessions, than to resemble something out of “Night of the Living Dead.”

3. If you are fortunate enough to have been invited to an offsite, (typically) Pharma-sponsored dinner, be extremely careful about your wine consumption. Servers at most restaurants are instructed to give large pours, especially when someone (other than you) is paying for it, and especially when the wine comes from bottomless, industrial-sized vats located somewhere in the vast labyrinth that must run under every restaurant. Realize that you will pay the price the next day if you ignore this advice (re-read comment number 2 above).

4. Do not ignore the posters. Do not assume that the only “good stuff” at the meeting is what has been chosen to be presented orally. In fact, a particularly good and efficient way of viewing the posters is to do so in the morning, when only the oral sessions are scheduled. Poster sessions typically are scheduled for the afternoon, but are available for viewing at other times as well. It really is quite pleasant walking through a mostly empty room, at your own pace, viewing the many fascinating topics on display. Realize that you can always come back and discuss a particular topic with the presenter later in the day, or even email the presenting author after the meeting with questions or requests for a pdf copy of the poster.

5. Finally, do not schedule each day too tightly. Realize that one of the more enjoyable aspects of these meetings is an opportunity to spend 10 minutes or so with multiple different colleagues that you probably haven’t seen since last year’s meeting.

Following these suggestions will enhance your enjoyment of the meeting, and have your colleagues remarking on what a jolly, friendly fellow you really are. Ignore the advice at your own peril: you then are much more likely to ignore your spouse and yell at your kids when you return home, as a result of extreme sleep deprivation.