American Association for Cancer Research

How to Navigate a Scientific Meeting

At the Meeting

When you check-in you will receive conference programs: a large volume containing detailed schedules and abstracts and a pocket-sized program. You will also have access to a website containing electronic versions of some of those materials. For a nominal fee you can view major presentations online. If you have a Smartphone, consider the handy AACR scheduling application.

Whether you are attending an annual conference with thousands of participants or a specialized meeting with 500 attendees, there are different kinds of sessions to choose from:

  • Plenary sessions for major developments and open discussion
  • Lectures on major themes
  • Meet the expert presentations
  • Educational sessions designed for non-experts
  • Town meetings and forums

I recommend sampling some of each. The following are also very informative:

Late-breaking sessions—These presentations generate a lot of interest and may include some exciting findings and advances.

Poster sessions—Hundreds of posters in a hall can be intimidating, but take advantage of this chance to see the latest research in your area. Each study is summarized on a poster with results clearly indicated. The presenters are with their posters and will be eager to talk with you.

Exhibit Hall—Take some time to explore this hall filled with pharmaceutical and medical device companies, educational institutions, publishers, and non-profits. You can collect literature, resources, business cards and contacts for future reference. Be sure to share your business card, too. 

As you attend the sessions, listen for key words and themes. Every conference has what I call buzzwords—new discoveries and trends like genomics, tumor heterogeneity, pathways—that will give you a sense of where the science is heading. You may not understand every word, but you can do more research after the conference.  


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