AAAAI 2015: What I Hope to Learn

This weekend I’m going to the yearly American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) meeting in Houston, TX. I hope to see some of my allergist and allergy advocacy followers and acquaintances there! As I prepare to leave this afternoon, I’ve been thinking about what my goals are for the weekend.

Of course, like everyone else who will be in attendance, I want to learn about new research on allergy, asthma, and immunology! But there are SO many panels, speakers, events, poster sessions… dozens at once in some time slots! How does a girl decide what to attend? Where the most relevant and cutting edge stuff will be presented?

I’ve been to a number of academic conferences in Anthropology and STS now, and I’m planning my weekend using some lessons I’ve learned there. The first lesson is that careful scheduling is key. You need to mix up listening to lectures with other activities. So I’ve got some breaks, a tentative chat over coffee, interactive sessions, a Twitter meet up, and personal time in the evening all built into each day. As I’ve learned in the past, anything more than two panels a day leads to a very tired brain. For most of the lecture slots on my calendar I’ve noted 2 or more panels that seem interesting so that I can catch as many speakers that I’m hoping to connect with as possible.

I’ve also strategized what topics I’ll focus on. Since my research has really focused on the food allergy community for the past year, I’ve mostly selected panels related to food allergy diagnosis and treatment to attend. Some panels focus on new research; others focus on translating scientific evidence into real-world interactions with patients. Some are focused on nutrition counseling, some are focused on the role of microbes in modulating immunity, some are focused on different applications of immunotherapy, and some are focused on the nitty gritty science behind new testing technologies. Since these are hot topics, most panels have at least one name I recognize.

But it’s also good to leave room to learn something unexpected from different areas of research. To that end, I’ve also included a couple panels on asthma treatment updates. Asthma and allergy have many biological similarities, but they tend to be treated by different kinds of specialists. What new perspective might I gain on food allergy issues by listening to asthma specialists? I’ve also noted a panel run for and by nurses on how to administer food challenges. So relevant to food allergy science, yet coming from a much more practical perspective than the star allergists I follow on social media and in the literature.

So one major objective of this trip is to get a well-rounded view of the state of allergy research and treatment in the US at this moment. Luckily I can draw on my experience attending other research conferences to help navigate AAAAI.

A second goal, specific to my research as an anthropologist, is to learn more about the field of allergy itself. I know a lot about advocacy projects based on interviews and friendly conversations with a wide variety of people working in the advocacy space. I’ve learned a lot too about how two particular physicians who I shadowed think about allergies and make treatment decisions for their patients. Attending AAAAI will broaden my perspective on clinical issues in allergy treatment, and deepen my knowledge of how physicians think about certain aspects of allergy science. I hope to come out of this weekend more knowledgable about allergy, AND more knowledgable about how allergists and nurses think about the field of allergy – the hopes, fears, frustrations, excitement, debates, and passions with which people within the field are concerned. Put another way, I’m hoping to learn about the culture of the allergy and immunology profession.

With that, I’m off to the airport! Bon voyage to everyone else on their way to Houston! Get in touch with me via Twitter if you want to find time to meet up!

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