The sense of relief is palpable as vaccination percentages creep up: there is more work to be done, but for those who have received the shots, the world feels like a safer place. At social gatherings where all are vaccinated, it seems that there is a difference from pre-pandemic functions, perhaps a level of enthusiasm in engagement with others, and an appreciation of what we took for granted before.
The social and the professional environments are entirely congruent in this perception, this need. We will hold our Fall 2021 Group Meeting (Wednesday, October 20 – Friday, October 22) in Fort Lauderdale as a face-to-face meeting for the first time in two years. The intangibles of personal interactions in developing consensus around priorities and specific projects turn out to be quite tangible, and are reflected in the responses to this decision. These have been by and large very supportive, and excitement is building at the prospect. We recognize though that some may have concerns even in October, and even with attendance limited to those fully vaccinated, so you will be receiving communications to explore your concerns and solicit your recommendations. We are keen to have as broad a representation as possible, but with every risk mitigation strategy in place.
Our stellar meeting organizers and IT mavens were able to get us through the remote interactions of the last two meetings, and more impressive, connected unprecedented numbers of participants to the open sessions. We recognize that this connectivity allowed an especially broad representation of community oncologists and other research professionals to participate. We are committed to meeting this need with each of our meetings going forward, and are discussing with committee chairs how best to communicate the discussions and priorities of their disciplines. Your suggestions on this topic will also be welcome: in the virtual meetings, what do you think worked best? What subject matter was most useful? What aspects could you happily do without?
The fall meeting will follow much of the design of previous in-person meetings, but for a long time we have been conscious of the need to simplify the proceedings. When we asked what people missed most in the virtual meetings, it was the ability to meet informally to talk about priorities, or about a wrinkle in research design, or to seek collaboration in trials with complex endpoints—those conversations outside the meeting rooms that often led to the next generation of trials. Accordingly, we will try to avoid the 7 AM to 10 PM schedule that has become the norm, and leave time for dinner with colleagues. Since precautions will still be in effect, there will be coffee breaks between sessions to allow meeting room cleaning.
The agenda will be no less ambitious though. By popular demand, the thirst for cutting edge information on new avenues of research will be met by the Robert L. Comis Translational Science Symposium early in the meeting, as well as by a Special Symposium on the final day. More detail about both of these will follow. The scientific committees will have their usual meeting structure, but we will try to hold some of the more administrative or supportive meetings virtually in advance, to decrease the pressure on time and meeting space. There will be room also to accommodate our pharma partners, who are so critical to the implementation of our research ideas, and creative use of indoor and outdoor space may allow for meaningful interactions. This is a time of re-invention, of taking stock. During the pandemic, many took the opportunity to analyze, and to distill what was most important. ECOG-ACRIN is doing this too, with your help. See you in Florida.
Read the June/July 2021 issue here.