Author: Aylin Tansel, MD
Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) can be overwhelming and intimidating for the first-time attendee, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it is an incredibly fun opportunity, and I am incredibly excited for you to attend. Below are my own tips to help you maximize your experience.
Let’s Cover Some of the Basics
First things first, download the DDW app into your phone. Yes, do that right now. I will wait….
Did you download it? Awesome. It will come in handy when you are at the conference. It is well-designed and can help you maximize your time when attending events that you are interested in.
Next, are you presenting? Oral? Poster? If yes, make sure you look up the date and time. Even if you are not presenting but listed as a co-author on a project, you should mark down the date and time and make sure to show your support. If you are not presenting and aren’t a co-author on any projects, do not fret! It just means you have more time to maximize your DDW experience.
Flight? Housing? Settle these as early as possible. It becomes more difficult to figure out closer to the date. If you have friends that are going, consider sharing and splitting costs. I generally rent a larger, cheaper Airbnb apartment with four of my co-fellows.
Maximizing Your Experience
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the fun stuff. First, stop and think about what is most important to you. If you were to say “DDW was so incredible because _____ happened,” what would you put in the space? Is it a learning experience, an opportunity for research, finding a job, exposure to a new technology/technique, or mingling with a leader in your area of interest? If multiple answers come to mind, choose the one thing you would be most disappointed if you could not achieve. (Don’t worry, I will make sure you get to fit the other things too).
Once you have identified what is most meaningful, begin planning that first. Then, you can shape the rest of your time around that.
If you want to learn, take one or both of the postgraduate courses offered. Both AGA and ASGE offer courses. AGA tends to be more research-based and focuses on boards preparation. This year’s AGA course is tited The Full Scope of GI Advances. ASGE tends to be more practice-based, and this year’s course is titled Best Tips, Worst Mistakes: Lessons from the Masters. Check both of their syllabi to determine if the topics interest you. You get reduced costs to attend these courses as a trainee, so take advantage of that! Board preparation may not be your priority, but if it’s on your mind then DDW is a good place to get a head start. If prepping for your boards is a priority, DDSEP is a great tool and will be sold at a reduced cost during DDW. There is also a board review course worth checking out.
If you want exposure to a new technology, go to the DDW Exhibit Hall. There are often stations to practice using some of the tools. Generally, these stations are geared towards people in practice and may be tailored for more advanced endoscopists than you, but that’s okay – you can try them out too. Try to come during off-peak times like the morning to get more time practicing at the stations.
Want to mingle with a leader in your area of interest? If you know the leader you want to meet and have specific questions for them, consider contacting them ahead of time. You can also check out the DDW abstract lookup to get a sense of what their schedule might be. Please, don’t overwhelm them and be respectful of their time. They have their own primary objectives planned for DDW and the last thing you want to do is interfere with that.
Everyone talks about networking, and yes, this is important. My personal impression is that quality networking can be difficult to achieve as a novice. That’s okay. The entire meeting is a like a networking session. I feel I am most successful at networking when I simply focus on my own pursuit of knowledge and having fun rather than trying to collect contacts. That being said, it helps to have a short “elevator speech” to introduce yourself and career interests – particularly if you are looking for a job or research opportunity. There are also several programs such as the ASGE Fellows Networking Session and spaces such as the DDW Trainee and Young GI Lounge that can help you meet people. Everyone matters – fellows, attendings, and experts.
If you want to learn a new skill, consider some of the sessions with lab time. Yes, they cost money, but they cost less for trainees and you get more one-on-one time with people that are experts.
Plan the scientific sessions you want to attend, but don’t fret if you can’t make them. You get access to DDW On Demand (free for two years for attendees) which allows you to catch up on lectures you wanted to attend but missed. Make sure to drop by the Poster Hall, which is sorted by the DDW Tracks and allows you to interact with fellow attendees. New this year, there will be free ePosters tours by society experts in the Poster Hall at the DDW ePosters Theater.
For the Ladies
For women, I highly recommend the DDW Women’s Luncheon. Important women in academia always make an effort to show up, even if they can only stop by briefly. The atmosphere is collaborative, the advice beyond helpful, and the attendees inspiring. The first time I went I was with a co-fellow and we were blown away and spent time sharing gems of advice we gleaned from our small groups with each other, with our co-fellows, and with the world. We still talk about it. I recommend this for every woman trainee. There are also several other women’s events occurring during DDW..
Good luck! Have fun! I am so excited for you to attend DDW!
Aylin Tansel, MD, is currently a fourth-year T-32 Gastroenterology and Hepatology Fellow at Baylor College of Medicine with an interest in motility and outcomes research.