Saturday, October 7, 2017

Conference Life: Toronto & San Diego

I spent half of September not at work, thanks to the Canadian and American radiation oncology conferences being back-to-back. It's been an invigorating and exhausting mix of learning, exploring, and socializing. And such fun. I'm really grateful to have gotten to attend both this year.
First up was CARO in Toronto. We stayed at the conference hotel, the beautiful Hilton right downtown.
this view!
The conference kicked off with a resident refresher course, this year focused on brachytherapy (inserting radioactive sources directly into the tumour -- cool stuff).
The sessions were great, but I think what I enjoyed most was the company. Seeing how friends from other programs across the country are doing career- and life-wise is always really nice.
And of course we did get to take in a bit of the city.
The highlight was my first visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was even free (Wednesday evening). We were admittedly a bit too rushed to see the galleries properly, but did get to check out the Every. Now. Then. exhibit we'd been recommended, a contemporary Canada 150 interpretation.
Esmaa Mohamoud's deflated basketballs -- deflated dreams
Ruth Cuthand's Don't Breathe, Don't Drink -- each vessel represents a First Nation with a boil water advisory
paper town
snapshots and colour
One of my favourite galleries was a dark room with seemingly blank walls, where shining light at a certain angle revealed photo collages evoking racial tension. The idea was that although not always visible, history is always present.
We had some nice meals, including a fancy dinner at One King West.
conference fare
Pizzeria Libretto
Kekou, a gelato place with awesome flavours
All in all, it was a really nice four days.
Little did I know though, CARO was just lead-in for ASTRO, the American radiation oncology conference, which is the largest event I think I've ever been a part of.
While CARO is attended by a few hundred people and you're never more than arm's reach from someone you know, ASTRO attracts over 10,000 attendees and exhibitors from around the world. It felt like it'd taken over San Diego. Not to mention the convention centre (where they host Comic-Con), which was a little ASTRO city, complete with a daily newspaper.
We got to stay in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, a really neat place with its old facades and lively night scene (neon-lit pedicabs, live music, patios -- an incredible atmosphere).
And of course San Diego itself is fantastic. I was actually very conflicted on how to best experience both the conference and the city.

The first day was the residents' course, which turned out to be mostly on life and career skills. It was fascinating to listen to lectures on navigating the job market and being head-hunted, deciding between private vs. academic practice, and negotiating your contract. Most of the Canadian residents were dumbfounded. Our system just doesn't work in that way; at least not in radiation oncology. It was so eye-opening and I think motivated me to hustle more for what I want.
We put our posters up in the biggest hall ever and spent hours in the equally large exhibitors' hall, where companies go to all lengths for self-promotion. Like coffee baristas and smoothie bars at their booths. How else do you one-up the companies who get their advertising onto the lamppost banners and room keycards?
We made our way into some swanky parties and somehow got invited to drinks with a drug company rep at the top of the Hyatt.
great quotes on the windows
apparently the tallest waterfront hotel on the west coast of North America
We checked out a few cool places to eat, had ice cream at Ghirardelli, and were treated by our staff to a nice Mexican place in Old Town.
Café 21 -- deliciously messy burger
El Agave Tequileria -- got to try cactus, mole, and of course a little tequila
It was quite the five days and I'm still kind of blown away that life has led me to a place where I'm getting to attend -- and even talk for a few minutes about my research at -- these sorts of conferences. Impostor syndrome definitely makes me all the more grateful for these experiences, but I'll have to learn to balance that side of things with better promoting myself, as if I've learned anything this month it's that networking is the name of the game. Something to keep in mind for next year!

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