Friday, 26 May 2017 11:43

Behind the Scenes with Microbe 2017 co-Chair Robin Patel

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Published in mBiosphere

The largest annual gathering of microbial scientists will begin June 1st at the ASM Microbe in New Orleans, Louisiana. The conference is chaired by Drs. Robin Patel and Nicole Dubilier, who have applied their experiences from past ASM meetings (including Microbe 2016) to organize the most comprehensive microbial sciences conference possible. ASM spoke with Dr. Patel to ask about the Microbe program and tips on how to prepare for attendees.


Click here to register for ASM Microbe 2017!


American Society for Microbiology: What is it like to co-Chair such a large organizational conference as Microbe, that deals with both basic and applied sciences.

Patel Robin 3407786 00181Microbe 2017 co-Chair Dr. Robin Patel

Robin Patel: I’m excited, honored and privileged to serve as co-Chair for ASM Microbe 2017! I’ve been involved with ASM meetings for a number of years. This meeting, ASM Microbe, was brand new last year, and this year, the second ASM Microbe, will be even better than the first. It is a unique meeting, in that it brings together all aspects of the microbial sciences, whereas in the past content was spread across distinct meetings. Now, everything is featured together as a single meeting. This provides attendees a number of great opportunities from which to choose that may be directly or indirectly related to the area of science that they are working in; they may focus on their specific area of interest, or learn more about other areas, including those in which they may want to take their science in the future.

We’ve organized the meeting into seven tracks (AAID, AES, CPHM, EES, HMB, MMP, POM), so one way to sample the meeting is to look at track-specific programming. Every part of the scientific program, whether it is a plenary session, lecture, symposium, meet-the-experts session, track hub session, or poster session, will be linked to a specific track. In many cases, there is content that links to multiple tracks. Programming was very intentional, especially with the plenary sessions, to provide content that cuts across tracks, because a big advantage of this meeting is bringing all of this material together. There are areas of interest to people working in diverse fields, and there is the opportunity to look at the same field from different perspectives. 

Another way of examining the program is to look at a very granular level at a particular topic. So, for example, if there is a particular microorganism an attendee is interested in, there is the possibility of searching across all the programming by keywords and finding everything about their favorite organism. This is just another way of sampling what is on the program. Keywords could alternatively include the name of a new anti-infective agent, or even certain speakers’ names, institutions, or countries, depending on the interest of the attendee. Because it is such a big meeting, it is important to do some planning in terms of what each attendee wants to go to.


ASM: How does one prepare before the meeting?

RP: An experienced meeting-goer will already know how to go about this sort of thing; in a large meeting such as this, there is definitely some advance planning needed. Planning can include looking at the time of day that different types of sessions are scheduled, and at what’s going on at the same time, and then making some choices.

One approach that I like to take at ASM Microbe is to move around between different sessions. Say you’re most interested in the first speaker from one plenary session and the third speaker from another plenary session. You should move between rooms to catch the material of greatest interest to you; we try to keep our speakers on schedule to facilitate this type of horizontal movement. There’s no reason to commit to just one session; you should feel free to sample!


ASM: So wear good walking shoes!

RP: Yes, the New Orleans Convention Center is large so it’s important to plan some travel time and look at the physical locations of the sessions that you’re interested in. We’ve tried to put in a lot of programming, but to do that we’ve had to program some topics against one another, so we fully expect that attendees may find more than one session that they’d like to attend at the same time. Attendees will need to make some choices.


ASM: Great advice! And how would you say your experience as co-Chair of the Microbe 2016 meeting informed the programming for this year?

RP: That’s a really good question. Again, this is a new meeting, and any time you do something new, there’s no ‘right’ way of doing it. In our first year, we tried to make our best guess at what the ideal programming strategy would be, and now in our second year, we have refined that. We’re always making improvements.

One of the things new about the 2017 meeting compared to 2016 is that we’re highlighting the award lectures in their own time slot. In the past, many of the award lecturers presented their talks within existing sessions. We have decided to specially highlight several awardees. Some of the ASM awardees, such as the ASM Lifetime Achievement Award and Deepwater Horizon Lecture, were selected by members of the program committee to be featured as award lectures. This is a great opportunity not only to see the state-of-the-art science based on these international-level awardees, but also to learn more about ASM awardees and what they’ve done. We’re very excited about this new programming.


ASM: Can you tell me a little about the tracks used to organize the meeting?

RP: The tracks are a strategy to program across different areas of microbiology science. Since they are relatively new, they are continually being revised. We’ve made changes to the tracks this year compared to last and we continue to look at this - how best to organize the programming in a way that we capture all areas of interest to ASM members and attendees of ASM Microbe. It can be challenging, obviously.

One of the ways the tracks are important to us, besides programming the meeting, is to help group abstracts together for presentation and to communicate to abstract submitters the particular types of science featured at ASM Microbe.


ASM: The track leaders are extremely enthusiastic about the science in their sessions.

RP: The track leaders have a large amount of oversight over the programming and a more prominent role than they would have had in prior ASM meetings. Because we’re featuring so many diverse areas of the microbial sciences, we felt it was necessary to have prominent track leaders; they are all working hard to ensure that we capture the content needed to make ASM Microbe a special meeting.


ASM: On a personal note, Dr. Patel, are there any speakers or sessions that you are particularly looking forward to? 

RP: I’m particularly looking forward to the future of ASM and President’s forum (session 019), the opening session (session 001), and the keynote address (session 299). I’m also looking forward to Robert Bonomo’s talk. He is one of the awardees and will be delivering the ICAAC lecture. He is an expert on antimicrobial resistance, and just a phenomenal deep thinker in the area of resistance. I’m not discounting any of the other awardees of course, but Robert’s presentation is definitely one I’ll be attending.

Another session that attendees may find exciting is a quiz type of session (session 583), where we have a panel of experts who are participating in a game-show format answering skill-testing questions. I’m sure this will be a lot of fun, because one can’t really predict exactly what’s going to happen in this sort of session! It is spontaneous!

Another session that I enjoy is the literature review (session 308; session 312). ASM meetings have been doing this type of session for a long time. Essentially, this session feature a high-level review of the state-of-the-art literature from the past year or so. You might think that isn’t really needed, but to have experts synthesize what has been coming out in the recent past is quite special. It’s certainly possible to do on your own, but much more efficient to do by attending the literature review. 


ASM: Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Patel!

RP: One last note: we’re always interested in attendee input, so if at or after the meeting, anyone has questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to ASM. ASM is open to receiving your comments and trying to address them and incorporate your feedback into future versions of the meeting. We want to continue to improve, so please give us feedback; we’re happy to have it!


For more from Dr. Patel, see the recent Careers blog post on her clinical microbiology lab research and the future of lab technicians in clinical diagnostic labs, and listen to her interviewed by the TWIM team on TWIM 150: Microbiology is where it’s at.

Last modified on Sunday, 28 May 2017 23:29
Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf is the ASM Science Communications Specialist. She contributes to the ASM social media and blog network and hosts the Meet the Microbiologist podcast. She also runs workshops at ASM conferences to help scientists improve their own communication skills. Follow Julie on Twitter for more ASM and microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.

Julie earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, focusing on medical mycology and infectious disease. Outside of her work at ASM, she maintains a strong commitment to scientific education and teaches molecular biology at the community biolab, Genspace. She lives in beautiful New York City.