I have attended four (and counting!) SOT annual meetings. In addition to this year’s Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, I have attended the SOT annual meetings in New Orleans, Louisiana (2016); Baltimore, Maryland (2017); and San Antonio, Texas (2018). Does that make me a veteran attendee? You can bet! There is no attending SOT meetings without being radically impacted, scientifically and adventure-wise. Before each annual event, regular updates, information on awards and funding opportunities, and other flurries of notices keep the adrenaline pumping right till the end of the conference.
As an attendee from Nigeria, preparing to attend an SOT meeting is akin to winning a game of football. You have to be proactive and strategic. My preparations start in March, after the conclusion of the year’s conference. After drinking from the amazing wells of knowledge and science on display, I make a mental draft of the kind of research that I would be presenting at the next conference. This is very important because a quality abstract is needed to stand a chance of winning any of the numerous SOT awards offered. I have previously received the SOT Graduate Student, the SOT/SOT Endowment Fund/IUTOX Travel, and the Toxicologists of African Origin (TAO) Graduate Student Travel and distinguished scientist awards to support my conference attendance. While debating which professional association to choose from, the prospects for career advancement as well as availability of funding support have priority ranking for young scientists. Few societies can match SOT in these respects. There is something for everyone: undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, and young and established scientists.
After a successful abstract submission, the next hurdle is the visa process. Fortunately, SOT is a great and popular brand. A letter of invitation from SOT is hardly turned down in consular offices abroad, except for extraneous reasons. With the visa in the bag, you are good to go, but with a note of caution. These conferences have massive attendance and several sessions, and it is easy to get lost without a bearing. Yet again, the fluid efficiency of the SOT support staff comes to the rescue. A notice is sent by email ahead of time that the Preliminary Program and other Annual Meeting e-publications are available to download from the SOT website. I peruse the Program and note dates and times of interesting topics and events. I also make a note of the venues of presentations, especially of speakers who are in my specific field. I make it a point of duty to interact with them and exchange contacts for future collaborations and mentoring.
There is no dull moment at SOT conferences. They are always packed with activity and fun. For a participant from Africa, the TAO Special Interest Group dinner event is always the icing on the cake. The Specialty Sections also are involved, as they present a variety of enticing events. Space fails me to talk about the ToxExpo. Suffice it to say, it is a combination of inventions, exhibitions, freebies, scientific posters, refreshments, rendez-vous, and much more. A sure way of getting the most out of these conferences is to find a way to participate in an activity. Apart from presenting a poster, you can volunteer as an SOT Reporter or as a poster chair. You can even take pictures in SOT-designed frames as a way of spreading the SOT mantra of science advocacy and safer society. For me, my greatest fun was as a participant of the Tox ShowDown. It was an indelible occasion of science-laced fun. So, on your mark, get ready, and Anaheim beckons!