For many of us the last couple of months will have been lived in a pressure cooker. January had abstract deadlines bearing down upon us and February was spent with poster / paper preparations towering over us. Hopefully the hard work is now done and the posters are off being printed and the slides prepared. Now is the time to learn your lines, not write them! Don't use PowerPoint as an excuse to procrastinate for another month!
This is the time to ease back on the throttle and to commend your team on the work done to get your presentation together. Make sure all contributors are recognised. The person covering you so you could work on the abstract; the person proofreading your work; the person you bounced ideas of; the person who helped make the measurements. Each should be brought up to speed with the end product and their contributions acknowledged. Use your presentation as a way to tie your team together. And don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back for getting to this point.
It is also time to think. Think about what you are presenting. Were your findings what you expected when you set out? Are they likely to change the way you or others do things into the future? How are you going to manage that enormous gulf between identifying the need for change and implementing that change? All too often the need for change is documented but the implementation never happens. This is seen in management and in clinical medicine, in our public lives and our private lives. Why is this?
There are a variety of reasons why this is the case. I believe a lot has to do with the driving forces behind getting the work done versus implementing the changes. More often than not we have the ASM as the driver behind getting the work done. Unless we get the abstract in by a given date, then we won't be able to present. There is also the thrill of the chase as we pursue our questions in the hunt for an answer. We often allow the chase to dominate our belief in the importance of what we are presenting. We lose the passion for our topic. Implementation of our findings requires that we drive ourselves to complete the job. There is often no external deadline to apply pressure. Only if we still hold the passion for our topic, will we find the energy to pursue the implementation. Presentation then becomes simply one step along the way.
This is the time to ask the question "Where is my work leading?" You should be considering where the gaps are in your presentation. Do they need filling and how can I best do that? What changes are going to arise from my presentation and how am I going to implement them? At the meeting you need to explore the context of your work, to seek input and comment from others. You should allow your plans to evolve for the next year whether they revolve around development of your existing work or perhaps a new question will arise from discussion. Random thoughts in discussion often lead to earth shattering discoveries.
An important question to consider at the meeting is "How can I turn my work into a paper in a peer reviewed journal?" We as a Society are not good at this. Again there are a number of reasons why this is and I don't have the space to develop these ideas here. What you should do, though is think about this and have the question in the back of your mind when throwing ideas around at the meeting. Talk to people who have published and seek their advice as to what is needed and whether you could make that transition. We need to work our way out from under the shadow of our physician colleagues. The ASM is the place to be having these discussions.
For those of you not presenting at Adelaide the question is "Why not?" Now is the time to be thinking about possible projects for presentation at next year's ASM. Networking at the ASM is the time to flesh out and develop ideas. If you lack the confidence or support to do your own projects, then seek out a more experienced member to help you do so. Questions do not have to big; the search for improving quality is founded on little questions that are frequently overlooked. The most important thing is to believe no question is a waste of time. To not ask the question, however, is to waste an opportunity.
What you get out of an ASM is up to you. It is important to use the opportunity to relax, enjoy time with friends and to recharge the batteries professionally. It is also important to use the opportunity to develop yourself professionally, to gather resources together for the next year and to do some planning and goal setting. Come prepared and you will reap a bounteous harvest.
I issue the challenge to the senior members of the Society to make themselves available to the younger members to guide and advise them and, most importantly, to encourage them to make the transition between being technicians and working scientists. The future of our Profession depends on it.
I look forward to seeing you all in Adelaide.