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By Oren Fix, MD, MSc, FACP, AGAF, Chair, AASLD Training and Workforce Committee

If you've never been to The Liver Meeting®, it can be overwhelming to walk into the Moscone Convention Center for the first time and see thousands of people running in every direction. When you look at the packed meeting program, it's not unreasonable to run screaming. There is so much happening at once, and because you love learning about liver disease, you'll naturally want to see everything. But that's impossible even for veterans of  The Liver Meeting®. So here's a practical guide to help you navigate The Liver Meeting® like a pro, to get the most out of your time in San Francisco, and leave with new connections and renewed energy so that you too can become an integral participant in the field of hepatology.

1. First, accept that you can't attend everything. There is no single Liver Meeting® for everyone. The meeting is designed to have many things happening at once because attendees have varying interests. There will inevitably be simultaneous sessions that you want to attend and you'll have to make choices.

  • Review the final program or meeting app (available via iTunes and Google Play; search for "AASLD") before the meeting and highlight those can't-miss sessions. If you don't know where to begin, start with the sessions listed in Table 1 and you won't go wrong. The Transplant and Presidential Plenaries are oral presentations of the best abstracts submitted, and the various State-of-the-Art Lectures are usually thought-provoking talks by speakers at the top of their field.
  • Prioritize sessions held in the main room – there's a reason those sessions have been scheduled in the biggest room.
  • If you have a particular research interest, be sure to go to those sessions, particularly the parallel sessions (oral abstract presentations, usually in a smaller room than the plenaries).
  • Popular topics are usually assigned larger rooms but can still quickly become full. Get there early if there's a talk outside the ballroom that you absolutely don't want to miss.
  • Consider particular speakers you may want to hear.
  • For your first time, don't try to go to a lot of the parallel abstract sessions. Prioritize the larger format and more general sessions (again see Table 1). You can usually count on the parallel sessions running on time, so if you do want to hear specific abstract presentations, feel free to come and go as you please. There is no obligation to stay for an entire parallel session just to hear one abstract of interest.
  • Take advantage of the ability to create a customized, online itinerary to stay organized. Do this before the meeting but don't be afraid to deviate from it on the fly.
  • Keep in mind that most sessions are taped and will be available on LiverLearning® (the official eLearning portal of AASLD) after the meeting. If you miss something, or you just want to review what you've heard, you will most likely be able to find it later. All abstracts are available in the meeting app and you usually get a thumb drive with the abstracts when you register at the meeting. The ePosters will also be available on LiverLearning® after the meeting.

2. Don't miss Trainee Day. This is a day of events programmed just for you (see Table 2). You're going to want to go to these sessions.

3. Build time in your schedule to do nothing. See rule #1. You will need to take a break once in a while. You will want time to network, to meet up with friends, or just hang around.

4. Take a deep breath before you enter the poster session or exhibit hall. In the poster session hall, you will find a sea of research posters on every liver topic imaginable. Posters are organized by topic and different topics are presented on different days, so plan in advance so you don't miss a topic or poster that's important to you. During the poster session, you can witness the breadth of research in liver disease, meet the presenters, and talk to them about their research. If you have a particular research interest, be sure to meet those with a shared interest and ask them about their project. Poster presenters will be at their posters for a 1.5-hour window during each poster session (specific times are listed in the program). 

The exhibit hall can be similarly overwhelming, like a mini amusement park in the middle of the convention center, or a giant, repetitive commercial, depending on your perspective. In there you'll find exhibitors from many pharmaceutical and device companies with booths of varying sizes. You'll wonder how some companies managed to bring an entire living room to the convention center. This is a good place to relax, meet up with friends, and learn a little about the companies and products.

5. Build your network and have fun. It may be hard to believe at your first Liver Meeting®, but the world of hepatology is relatively small. The meeting is as much about networking and meeting new people as it is about learning about the field and getting yourself up to speed on the latest research. Make an effort to meet people and the payoff will be enormous. These are people you will see again and again at future meetings, on the interview trail and throughout your career. The connections you make at this meeting can open doors and lead to important opportunities, and can also lead to strong, lasting friendships. Take time to nurture these new relationships.

  •  Go to the Trainee Reception (Friday, November 13, 7:30 pm, Marriott Marquis Club Room) and meet other trainees like you. This is an intimate venue and a wonderful opportunity to introduce yourself to the AASLD leadership -- they are focused on the future of hepatology (you) and are incredibly approachable.
  • Go to the Opening Reception (Saturday, November 14, 5:00 – 7:30 pm). This starts after the Postgraduate Course ends and is held in the Poster Session hall.
  • Go to the Members' Reception (Sunday, November 15, 7:30 pm in San Francisco's beautiful City Hall). This is a fun party and another great place to meet people.
  • If you have a particular research interest, attend those abstract sessions early and introduce yourself to the moderators, or seek out related posters and introduce yourself to the presenters. 

Your first Liver Meeting® is an exciting introduction to the vibrant world of hepatology, an opportunity to brush up on the basics, learn about the latest research, and make new connections. It doesn't have to be overwhelming, and with the help of this guide, hopefully you will arrive prepared to get the most out of your time in San Francisco.

Table 1. High-value Sessions at The Liver Meeting® 2015

Friday, November 13

8:00 am - 9:00 pm

Trainee Day (see Table 2)

Saturday, November 14

8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Postgraduate Course: Managing Liver Disease – From the Clinic to the Community (additional fee required)

5:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Opening Reception

Sunday, November 15

8:00 am - 9:30 am

Transplant Plenary I

9:30 am - 10:00 am

Thomas E. Starzl Transplant Surgery State-of-the-Art Lecture: Can Immunosuppression Be Stopped After Liver Transplantation?
Speaker: Sandy Feng, MD, PhD

10:30 am - Noon

Transplant Plenary II

3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

President's Choice Lecture: A Worm's Tale: Secrets of Inheritance and Immortality 
Speaker: Craig C. Mello, PhD, Nobel Laureate

7:30 pm

Members' Reception

Monday, November 16

8:00 am - 9:30 am

Presidential Plenary I: Basic/Translational

10:00 am - 10:30 am

Hyman J. Zimmerman Hepatotoxicity State-of-the-Art Lecture: Liver Hepatocytes and How They Relate to Hepatotoxicity
Speaker: Gregory J. Gores, MD, FAASLD


11:00 am  - 12:30 pm

Presidential Plenary II: Clinical

2:15 pm - 2:45 pm

Hans Popper Basic Science State-of-the-Art Lecture: Promotion of Hepatic Steatosis by the JNK Signaling Pathway
Speaker: Roger J. Davis, MD, FRS

2:45 pm - 4:30 pm Presidential Address and Late-breaking Abstracts Oral Session

4:45 pm - 6:15 pm

HCV Symposium: Update on HCV Treatment 2015

Tuesday, November 17

8:00 am - 9:30 am

Viral Hepatitis Plenary

9:45 am - 10:30 am

Hepatitis Debrief
Speaker: Norah Terrault, MD, MPH

10:30 am 11:00 am

Leon Schiff State-of-the-Art Lecture: Changing the Course of Cirrhosis
Speaker: Guadalupe Garcia-Tsao, MD, FAASLD

Table 2. Trainee Day, Friday, November 13

8:00 am - 3:00 pm

AASLD/ILTS Transplant Course
Catalysts for Liver Transplantation – Bench and Bedside (additional fee required)

Noon - 3:00 pm

Clinical Research Workshop
Observational Studies – Leveraging Clinical Data to Drive Innovative Research

3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Career Development Workshop
Learn about different career options in hepatology and obtain practical advice from experts about what you can be doing now to be better prepared. 

5:00 pm - 7:00 pm Academic Debates
Watch trainees debate controversial topics in a fun and stimulating session. Judges will decide the winner for each debate.
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm Trainee Reception
Meet members of the AASLD Governing Board as well as other leaders and trainees at a reception planned just for you.