Newbie at ASCB? Be a PEST Says ASCB Meeting Veteran Stan Cohn

Stan Cohn at the 2014 ASCB Annual Meeting. Photo by James McWilliams.

Stan Cohn at the 2014 ASCB Annual Meeting. Photo by James McWilliams.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to your first ASCB meeting. As a veteran of almost 30 ASCB meetings (you can count the rings on my ID Badge if you don’t believe me), I have some great advice on how to get the most out of your first ASCB meeting—be a PEST.


No, I don’t mean that you should regale the person at the next poster about your lumbago acting up after 18 hours straight in the microscope room or about your urgent need for spare change to use the pay phones that aren’t there anymore. I mean that you should follow the PEST acronym—Posters, Exhibitors, Symposia, and Talking. Cell biology is full of acronyms (NIH, NSF, MTOC, ER) so this will give you good practice. Follow PEST at ASCB to a better CV, a new R01, and an OMG time FTW.


P is for Posters. ASCB has a lot of them across a huge range of topics. Standing beside or in front of each poster is a very proud PI, postdoc, or student who is dying to to tell you about the work. There is no better way to find out about up-to-the-moment work in labs or in specific scientific topics than by talking to people in the ASCB poster alley. Look for the topics that interest you (all the posters are grouped by topic), get there when the author is presenting, and feel free to ask questions. Poster presenters love to talk to you about their work. Just point to one of the graphs and they’ll do the rest.


E is for Exhibitors. ASCB attracts a wide range of exhibitors showing off their products, from state-of-the-art (and big ticket) electronics to books, reagents, supplies, and other lab consumables. Walk the exhibit aisles. There are definitely things here that could make your research more efficient, your lab work more productive, and your teaching more exciting. Be bold. You don’t need cash to peruse the cool equipment or get a free, hands-on demonstration of a six-figure, intravital two-photon excitation imaging system. Exhibitors love young scientists because they might come back to ASCB as older scientists with grants. Meantime, in case you need more incentives, exhibitors have candies, treats, and takeaways (mugs, T-shirts, calendars, funny looking rubber bouncy things) to thank you for stopping by. There are even free bags to help you haul it all away. But please, the commercial exhibitors help underwrite ASCB’s large meeting costs, so let the exhibitors scan your badge when you stop by. They’ll email you more offers and send more freebies.


S is for Symposia (which also stands for Minisymposia, Microsymposia, and the still-to-be-invented Nanosymposia.). These organized talks will bring you up to speed in all the major areas of cell biology. The larger symposia (just you and a couple thousand of your closest friends) usually provide great perspective and context with talks by the “stars” of cell biology. Many are names you might already know from citations in your journal club. At ASCB, you see them in person. (And you might also bump into them on a reception line at the meatball tray. Introduce yourself. Here’s your chance to share an hors d’oeuvre with a Nobelist. Turns out one of them I talked to went to the same school district as my own kids.) Minisymposia provide shorter talks designed to tell you about up-to-the-minute work and our latest understanding of exciting new areas. Just make sure you note the time and place of the minisymposium talks you most want to go to, as sometimes the rooms for the talks are not adjacent to each other.


And finally, T is for Talking—with colleagues, collaborators, friends, poster presenters, exhibitors, and complete strangers (who have an interest in cell biology). Don’t be shy. Talking is the main reason cell biologists come to meetings. Talking is how you interact with people who can stimulate your scientific thinking, explain solutions to your instrument problems, suggest novel experiments, develop better experimental controls, encourage excellence in science pedagogy, or even help you find out where to buy the best reagents for the best price. At ASCB, talking to other students (and postdocs) is how you find out what life is like at other schools, institutions, and even in other research fields. Whoever you meet, you and your colleagues will find some of the best talk of the meeting over coffee or dinner after the PowerPoint slides go dark at ASCB.

So be a PEST. Use the ASCB online app and printed meeting materials to organize your time, keep a notebook to follow up on the nifty things you learn, and expect to have a fabulous meeting experience.

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