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The legendary ASMS conference: A MASSive MASS MASSage

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Topic: Science  |  Series: My Journey to PhD
ASMS conference: Work ahead!The more you know the less you think you know. If you have a feeling you must have read this here already, you are quite right. I don’t wanna repeat myself but this is something that hits you badly at the ASMS. This annual huge mass spectrometry feast took place in Baltimore between 15th and 19th June this year and I had the opportunity to check on it with several colleagues from AMOLF.

Before leaving for Baltimore  people were telling me all kinds of different ASMS stories illustrating how vast the conference actually is. In the end I found myself being somehow nervous to attend it at all since it sounded like a good portion of officiality.

I managed to give my poster a hint of fun which did not go unnoticed by my supervisor:

"Imagine there will be the vendors and potential job offerers coming to have a look at your poster. They might not like the unofficial traces."

"Well, fair enough, was my answer, for I don’t feel like working for corporate people who take themselves too seriously and don’t appreciate a bit of poster extravaganza."

Moreover, I only wished I could call my poster rebellious… I found it normal anyway and therefore sticked to my version.

Once in Baltimore I felt pretty comfortable again although the conference was massive, indeed. It was actually so big that I started to ponder its size benefits. I have always suffered from the Faustian syndrome of craving to learn everything which was completely impossible at ASMS more than anywhere else.

I concluded that to make ASMS useful and to take the most of it, one should arrive with a clear strategy-of-attendance. There were three basic ones one could: 1) stick with the folks from one’s field and expertise (either method or area of investigation) – for me it meant explore the imaging/data analysis sessions or general MS brain research; or 2) explore completely new things and learn new cool stuff – that was rather difficult as attendance of specialized sessions where u could absorb new knowledge definitely required a certain level of previous involvement; or 3) hunt a new job.

Sadly enough, I had no strategy whatsoever… Hence I found myself being uncomfortably spread among the three above given approaches with a strong inclination to the first one. I attended some plant research oriented sessions and checked on the posters as well and actually found a cool place to consider a job application once I get myself through the PhD fun.

As I said: I spent most of the time among the MS imagers. What I really like about the community is that these folks kind of hold on together. I appreciate the efforts to make MS imaging united. (Since MSI is a rapidly evolving technique with a strong potential in clinics, it is of big importance to focus on unification of the sample preparation protocols as well as data handling.)

One thing I do not like about MS imaging is its divine aura. Add "MS imaging" on your poster, sneak it in your talk title and you sure as hell get a proper attention. Not that MSI was not cool. It is! But we should realize that it certainly does not answer all the questions we might have. Sometimes it’s just better to use the "old good" LCMS instead of bothering with an MS imaging experiment.

One thing that I unfortunately missed on the conference was the MSI&histology workshop. It has, as I had heard, turned out to be the conference’s highlight. I managed to discuss the topics off record with people who were clever enough to participate. I know I would have enjoyed as the workshop stood up for its name and was full of useful discussion between the actual pathologist and MS imagers. Main idea: what steps have to be taken to make the collaboration beneficial not only for both sides but especially for clinics in general. And the gist was as I already wrote: Don’t employ MSI just for the sake of it. The pathologist can sometimes do the job, faster, cheaper, and … yes, better!

I liked the poster sessions. Got a lot of interaction and found out some new useful stuff. Discussing with peps who were not ASMS newbies, the level of MSI sessions improved immensely throughout the past years. There is still a lot of work to be done though, which promises a good fun. I think the most rapidly evolving MSI field will be the data analysis; the demands on effective and correct mining of the data load will keep increasing. And further the subcellular imaging and multimodal imaging, which themselves demand significant computer work, too. I reckon we should all get a proper chemometrics training as so far most of us just hit the buttons when doing the data analysis, often not having a proper clue how we are actually violating our data.

What brought me a certain portion of disappointment were the MSI oral sessions. I could find two or three which I found showing something new and real cool. Again, participants from the previous years also confirmed that heaps of the stuff was already presented last year. Maybe MSI got itself onto a plateau after years of speedy improvements?

P.S. I was awarded the ASMS travel stipendium and hence I became an abstract checker for six hours on Monday morning. I was glad I did not get the red vest with huge "Ask me" on the back as several other students cruising the convention center corridors did. On the other hand it might have been a bit more fun than working on computer the whole morning :) Great opportunity for the students to fund the travels though! The rest of my travelling was funded by another stipendium that I won on a conference in April. :)

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