The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Informatics Trainees Conference is an important annual event for the academic programs that are funded by the NLM’s University-Based Biomedical Informatics and Data Science Research Training Grant Program and a variety of funding initiatives from the NLM and the Veteran’s Administration. The conference is hosted each year by one of the training grant sites, and this year OHSU volunteered to host the meeting. Never did we anticipate the emergence of a global pandemic and the need to move the conference to a virtual format.
When the decision to go virtual was made, we decided that the most important aspect to preserve was for trainees to get to present their papers, posters, and open mic presentations to their current and future colleagues. The move to a virtual format did allow us to revamp the schedule, and spread the conference over three days. This allowed us to account for time zone differences and took advantage of a day recovered that many attendees would typically spend traveling.
As done in past years, we established a Student Program Committee, co-chaired by Lily Cook and Meena Mishrah of OHSU, and asked them to develop the virtual conference schedule. They did an excellent job, organizing sessions thematically and even putting together a virtual social event for trainees. The rest of the organization of the event was capably led by OHSU Educational Program Manager, Andrea Ilg, and the conference Web site was managed by Kate Fultz-Hollis.
The meeting was launched at 7 am Pacific time on Monday, June 22, 2020 by OHSU Program Director and Training Grant PI Dr. William Hersh, with an additional local welcome from OHSU School of Medicine Dean Dr. Sharon Anderson. After an introduction from NLM by Dr. Valerie Florance, NLM Director Dr. Patricia Brennan gave an update on recent NLM activities (see image to right), especially those related to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to academic presentations from the trainees, the meeting also featured sessions on careers in academic and industry, research funding opportunities from NLM, and the annual NLM Ada Lovelace Computational Health Lecture delivered by Dr. John Holmes of the University of Pennsylvania. The lecture was entitled, AI in the Age of COVID-19: Computational Tools for the Classification, Prediction, and Characterization of a Pandemic.
Many lessons were learned in putting on a virtual conference, but hopefully next year’s conference, planned for Seattle, will take place in person.