The First-Timer’s Survival Guide:
How to Get the Most out of Your First ISMRM Annual Meeting

At the 2013 annual meeting of the ISMRM in Salt Lake City, we held an inaugural meeting of the Trainee Working Advisory Group (TWAG), comprising some first-time attendees, and some more seasoned trainees.


The TWAGs were charged with discussing the following points:

  • Things you wished you’d known when you got to your first ISMRM
  • Top survival guides for a successful ISRM
  • Top tips for your first ISMRM meeting
  • The best and worst thing about the meeting is….’

As a direct result of this last point, several new initiatives were created including the Newbie Reception on Saturday night, and the Up Close and Personal sessions. 

Consolidating the discussion points into one ‘Survival Guide’ is tricky.  One comment from the TWAGs was the meeting is BIG – much bigger than expected and it can be a little overwhelming.   However, the TWAGs put together 10 key points for first-timers, to help you have a successful and enjoyable meeting: 

1.  Plan

You will get the most of the annual meeting if you do some homework in advance of the meeting.  Spend some time thinking about the most important things that you would like to see. The entire meeting program is now available online: and (if you are registered for the meeting), you can read all the abstracts. It is far better to do this before you get to Milan, than to arrive at the MiCo.  Maximise the use of your time in Milan!!!!

2.  Pace Yourself

The meeting has a packed schedule.  It is possible to find something interesting and useful from 7:00 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day – but this is not recommended!  You’ll get saturated pretty quickly and by Wednesday or Thursday, your ability to absorb / useful information will be severely diminished. Again, prioritize what is the most important.

3.  Parallel Sessions

When you attend a session (educational or scientific), you might find that not all of the session is relevant or interesting to you,  or you might have spotted a talk in another parallel session room that you’d like to see.   It is completely okay to leave one session and join another (but etiquette dictates that you wait for the end of a talk to leave / join the audience). Also – ALL SESSIONS ARE RECORDED and become available online after the meeting to meeting registrants. Therefore, you don’t need to miss anything!

4.  Interact

The conference proceedings are available online, and all presentations are recorded (see below) – so, in theory, you could attend remotely.  However, this is completely missing the point of the term ‘conference’.  Make the most of the opportunity to network.  Most people (junior or senior) are delighted to meet new faces and to chat about their work – so don’t be afraid to approach those big names and introduce yourself, and just start chatting!

5. Asking Questions

Don’t be shy about asking questions at the microphone!  This is especially true in the educational programmes.  Everyone in the audience is there to learn – and so if you have a question, there’s every chance that others will have the same question.  In most sessions, it will be possible to ask questions via Twitter.  This allows you to ask ‘anonymously’. But remember, sign up for Twitter and learn how to use it first!!!

Insider Tips: 

6.  Get There Early!

This is a principle that will serve you well on many fronts.  We have literally thousands of people attending the meeting, and yet some people are surprised to find long lines at the registration desk on Monday morning. You will not want to miss the opening ceremony this year – so get there early (registration opens at 14:00 on Friday afternoon) – and is open all day Saturday and Sunday as well.  

Similar is the queues for food at the opening reception (Sunday evening) and closing party (Thursday evening). Just think, with 6000+ people, it is IMPOSSIBLE for everyone to get served immediately.  

7.  Social events:

There are a number of programmed and informal evening events throughout the meeting.  The TWAGs pointed out that they often didn’t know about these – until it was too late. Although things vary from year to year, there are usually evening events organised by:

The Major MR Vendors:  Often these require pre-registration and are generally only open to people working at sites that own that equipment. Best advice: Talk to senior people in your lab and find out if your MR equipment supplier is running an evening event and whether you can / should register.  These are usually events with food and drink and brief presentations from the company – but represent an excellent opportunity to network with fellow users of the same equipment. 

Study Groups:   Again, varies from year to year, but the study groups often organise informal ‘off-site’ social events.  For example, the white matter study group holds a ‘meet in the pub night’ each year.

Chapter Meetings:  These are generally extremely informal and information is passed by word of mouth, but generally consist of everyone from the Chapter country congregating at a pre-determined venue.  For example, the British Chapter usually meets on a Monday night, and the Benelux on a Tuesday.  These informal gatherings are excellent ways to get to know your imaging community, building networks and contacts.  The best way to find out about these is to get in touch with your country’s chapter committee, or again – ask senior colleagues in your lab.

8.  Relax!

Sounds cheesy…. But the meeting is extremely busy, and you could try and push yourself to run between every single talk that you want to see,  to try and see every poster, to go to every lunchtime symposia, every evening study group and so on….. but you’ll be exhausted!  It is far better to have come away with some new friends, have chatted with a ‘big name’ in your field, and have two or three ‘nuggets’ of information that will shape your research.

9.  Business Cards:

Although these are becoming a dying breed, several of our TWAGs noted that having business cards ready to exchange was helpful, especially when another meeting attendee passes you theirs.  A matter of personal preference,  but something that the TWAGs raised.
10.  What are the ribbons?
You’ll see ribbons of various colours hanging off people’s badges as you walk around the meeting.   These are used to highlight particular roles in the Society and/or annual meeting. For example, there is a ribbon that identifies someone as a Moderator of a session, another denotes Educational Faculty, another might indicate that the person is a Fellow of the Society.  If you want to know more, just go and ask the wearer!

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