Nothing quite like ARVO: A look back at a memorable week

May 11, 2011

by Paul Kaufman, MD, IOVS Editor-in-chief

ARVO is my busiest week of the year, and this year was no exception.

The few days leading up to ARVO were busy ones — last-minute personal schedule changes, altering hotel and airline reservations — but it was a quiet, uneventful flight down to Fort Lauderdale with perfect flying weather and a great aerial tour of the Southeast U.S.

Arrived Thursday night, stayed up too late to get up early Friday for THE WEDDING, off to the ARVO/Pfizer Research Institute Friday mid-day. The biomarker meeting was interesting, although many of these discussions have occurred in other contexts / venues.

Friday night began the “on the ground” pre-scheduled individual meetings and/or rearranging such meetings. Registration Saturday morning was wonderfully efficient and uncrowded, although the scanner did not like my iPhone. Keyboard to the rescue! Preloaded slides for Monday talk showed perfectly in the speaker ready room – not even any Mac-Windows transfer issues. Back to ARVO/Pfizer for the first of three meetings.

Hoped that my broken but healing ankle (a casualty of the Wisconsin winter on the last day in January) would carry me through the week, but felt secure knowing that the ARVO office folks were looking out for me by having a mini-scooter available if needed (as they would for any member with a disability requesting one in advance).

Saturday evening: A moving and informative Alcon Research Institute Symposium in tribute to Steven Podos, deceased late in 2009. Steve, a previous ARVO President, IOVS Editor-in-Chief, and AUPO Executive Vice President was a friend and mentor throughout my entire career, starting as a first-year ophthalmology resident at Washington University. His wife Wendy has been a friend even longer, so I have known them each longer than they knew each other. Janet Serle, Steve’s protégé and longtime associate at Mt. Sinai, was eloquent and, in keeping with Steve’s passion for training and mentoring physician-scientists, Dave Epstein, Paul Sieving, Janet Sparrow and Ted Dryja all spoke of different aspects of the development and role of physician-scientists in ophthalmology.

Sunday: Worked on a manuscript with colleagues in the morning, then off to the convention center for a poster session, including one from our group. Then the IOVS Editorial Board meeting, then a meeting with our IOVS Associate Editors and senior staff. A very full day before I even got to the official ARVO Opening Session and Keynote Lecture on Sunday evening!

Fast-forward through the rest of the week – many small focused meetings with scientific colleagues and partners, several oral and poster presentations from our group (fine-tuned some to the very last minute); struggled to get to sessions and hear / see the specific papers / posters of greatest interest; had the mixed emotions of being accosted by friends, colleagues, students along the way so that one got to only a fraction of what was planned; stayed up far too late to keep up with responsibilities at the home base and at IOVS; and faced the nightly choice between running on very little sleep vs  “cheating” on the morning sessions / meetings.

Memorable events:

The Helen Keller Foundation award dinner for Dr. Endre Bálázs, a scientist who not only did important basic research on hyaluronan and its role in the vitreous, but also changed forever the practice of ophthalmic surgery worldwide with the introduction of injectable hyaluronan as a tissue coater / protector and space expander, used in virtually every intraocular surgical procedure. He also founded the International Society for Eye Research (ISER), was the founding editor of the journal Experimental Eye Research, and is still eloquent and dashing at the age of 91 – what an inspiration!

The Dean McGee Eye Institute reception, which would have honored Dr. Gene Anderson, recipient of the Proctor Medal this year, was instead focused on honoring Gene’s wife of 48 years, Elizabeth, who succumbed to cancer shortly before the meeting, and an outpouring of support for him.  Gene, a former ARVO trustee and vice president and a leader in retinal cell biology, postponed giving his award lecture until next year,

These three non-science “events” illustrate how ARVO has become a community going far beyond the specific science we all come for.  It is for many deeply personal, and truly a global village where we give and receive support not only professionally but in many other levels as well.  The collaborations in science that have become essential for success form the basis for collaborations and support in life as well.  Truly, we are not alone.

Other non-science events also make ARVO memorable.  The ARVO Classical Concert, ARVO Rocks, ARVO Idol, the various institutional and organizational receptions, breakfasts, luncheons, etc . – some purely social, some devoted to forging disciplinary or geographic interactions, are all  important dynamics for moving science forward in the modern era – interactions and connections between people.  Like a village, we worry and try to care for and develop and educate the children – the young scientists, physician scientists and even the supporting staff – e.g. administrators – and help them become independent self-sufficient adults (i.e., independent but collaborative investigators).  It is especially rewarding beyond words to see some that you personally have had a hand in training become successful investigators and even leaders in their field.  This joy is one of the few privileges of aging, and more gratifying than any work that we do as individuals.

The icing on the cake was the very last day of the meeting, Thursday, when things are relatively quiet.  This provided a clear path to attend several scientific sessions undistracted by other events and appointments, and to hear some spectacular presentations in my own areas of interest.  It reminded me of the joy we get from the science itself, the unfolding of new information and insights.  I had several “aha” moments in just a half day, leaving a warm glow heading back to “normal” life.

There is nothing quite like ARVO for those of us lucky enough to work in this field.  Can the meeting or the organization itself do some things better?  Of course, always.  But we should never forget what we have, and build from that, not remake it.

Funds don’t grow on the trees. How ARVO Funding Guide can change a researcher’s life?

May 10, 2011

I clearly remember, it was almost two years ago. I had just returned back from ARVO annual meeting in lovely FLL. It was awesome as always. I got about 25 business cards with me and I ran out of them on the second day. ARVO is always a great fertile area in terms of networking and collaboration. You meet with people from all over the world and you are able to see all these interesting work together in a very neat way. Anyway, I was just passing by the information desk and I saw a printout named ‘ARVO Funding Guide’. I picked up one and read it from the very beginning. There were hundreds of grants, awards etc. sorted in alphabetical order. Every item was explained briefly and provided with web links etc. I started going through it and once again I realized that funds didn’t grow on trees. If you need a fund to promote your research, you should look for it. In other words, you should be proactive. Being just ‘active’ doesn’t work. After reading the whole ARVO funding guide, I was able to get two really nice grants within the last two years. With the help of these two grants, I was able to do my post-doc fellowship and live in Boston in a very comfortable way. If you look for funding options, just go to ARVO’s website ( and start reading this cool guide. I am sure this will make a big difference for young researchers who want to move to a tenure-track position.

Quantity, Quality & Secrecy

May 7, 2011

While I had planned to post during ARVO, the meeting was (again!) so busy that I didn’t have the time to write anything substantial. I think one can only regard that as a sign that the meeting was very interesting, although I find it hard to point out any specific highlights.

Seeing how first-time attendees react to the meeting is always interesting. Some are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of posters that they prefer the simplicity of nearby sand and sea. In others, however, you observe how the scientific spirit awakens and that they go home with some new ideas that they are really determined to pursue.

In general, I enjoyed the posters more than the paper sessions. I often wonder about the organizers’ criteria for selecting papers and at times the result of their choice certainly didn’t work for me. Of course, my judgement was based on the presentation, while the organizers have to make their choice in advance, based on only the abstract. But when the results are insignificant and neither the topic nor the methods are new – definitely things that can be assessed based on the abstract – one really wonders… The posters, however, always give you the opportunity to select those that you find most interesting, and to really interact with the presenters. Apart from asking questions for my understanding, I always try to give what the presenter hopefully also perceives as constructive criticism.

Something that really bothered me was that some presenters did not want to talk about their work. It seems to be widespread: I encountered this both during poster and paper sessions, and both with industrial and academic presenters. Often, they presented their work and tried to show that their approach was better, but when asked questions about the methods they were unwilling to explain because they considered it a trade secret or they wanted to file a patent.

I really think these presenters should be sanctioned. Scientific meetings are a waste of time if the methods that are used cannot be discussed. Of course, if someone evaluates a device that employs proprietary, unpublished methods, he/she might not have knowledge about the internals of the device. But everybody should be both able and willing to discuss all scientific aspects of the presented work – stating commercial interest does not suffice in this case. Let me know if this bothers you as well!

ARVO 2011: Thoughts of a first-time attendee

May 6, 2011

by Vicky McGilligan 

I really feel that ARVO 2011 was an extremely valuable experience for me as a young post doc and first-time attendee. At first it was a little overwhelming, I knew that it was going to be a large conference, I just wasn’t expecting the variety and vastness of it all, but after taking some time with my coffee in the sunshine every morning and planning what I wanted to attend, I eventually navigated my way around the convention centre. I am really glad I used the online itinerary planner to decide on which talks and posters were most important to see in my area of research before going to Florida. The “big blue book” was also really helpful to decide on what extra talks and posters I wanted to attend. I really enjoyed getting to meet so many world renowned experts in my field and one of the highlights of the conference was attending the TFOS (Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society) dinner where I managed to meet some of the most amazing researchers in my field. It was quite surreal for me as a young post doc meeting and mingling with the researchers who I most admire! Another highlight of my ARVO experience was taking to the podium in the Floridian to give my first-ever ARVO talk. I was quite nervous the first time I entered the Floridian where I knew my talk would be. However I was also quite excited and thankfully on Wednesday afternoon my talk went well, with some interesting questions asked and suggestions on how to progress my work. I would thoroughly recommend to any young post doc to grab the opportunity to speak at ARVO if it ever presents, it really was a pleasure.

Excursion to Miami South Beach (Lincoln road mall)

May 4, 2011

Today I went to Miami south beach after attending morning sessions. The trip by public transport is a bit tricky unless you have done it before. So I’m sharing my experience here. The first leg was to go to the Tri-rail Fort lauderdale station by taxi which cost about $15-$20. Then I took the train to the Miami international airport(MIA) station which took about 40 minutes. The return ticket was $6.25. The train comes every 30-40 minutes. From the MIA station, there is a free shuttle direct to the airport and the trip only took about 5 minutes. Finally I took the 150 bus from MIA (the same bus stop) to Lincoln road mall. The bus trip cost $2.35 and took about 30 minutes. The train and bus timetable was quite organised so that I didn’t have to wait for long.

There were two highlights. One is the bus trip over a long bridge crossing a very wide river/waterway. It was a breathtaking view. The houses at the waterway looked like hacienda, creamy wall with orange roof. The second highlight was the beach – long white sand beach with clear blue water.

There are heaps of boutique shops along the Lincoln road mall, including Foot locker, radio shack, Apple. Lots of italian restaurants on the mall. The happy hour starts at noon!

Some tips: bring correct change for the bus trips, bring sunglasses and hat.

Video: Nigeria’s first ARVO presenter

May 4, 2011

by Bobbie Austin

Earlier this week, I met with Olusola Olawoye, a recipient of a 2011 Developing Country Eye Researcher Travel Fellowship from the ARVO Foundation. She is the first person from Nigeria to present at an ARVO Annual Meeting. Watch this video in which we talk about her experience.

“Cheapish” store for day-to-day needs

May 3, 2011

I discovered a “general purpose” cheap shop near the convention centre. The shop is called “Dollar tree”. Everything in this shop is only $1. It’s located at a large shopping complex north-west of the convention centre. From memory the complex is called South Port.

This shop would be handy for those who need to buy inexpensive urgent items, such as toothpaste/brush. I bought a pair of slippers for $1.

In this complex, I also found a sport shop, Runner Depot, a HongKong chinese restaurant and clothing shop, Dress for Less, Tokyo Sushi, …. Just opposite to the complex to the west, there is a large pharmacy and alcohol shop. Though there is 24-hr pharmacy right opposite to the convention centre to the west.