This year’s unique, all-virtual 2020 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo will be an energizing platform for attendees to share their labs’ stories, hear about others’ experiences, and—importantly—catch up with the evolving science around not only SARS-CoV-2 testing but also all other areas of lab medicine. Many disciplines outside infectious diseases have made notable strides to provide excellent patient care during the pandemic. Clinical laboratorians continue to improve and refine the tools clinicians need to ride a wave of innovation and fulfill technology’s promise in healthcare.

The meeting will also be a time away from the unsteady pace and buzzing distractions that have defined a volatile period in healthcare and in the world. If ever there was a time to step back and take in the big picture of laboratory medicine—from exciting developments in data analytics to new assays and instruments—this is it. The 2020 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo also will be an opportunity to make the meaningful connections that encourage, inspire, and sustain attendees in the face of the unyielding demands they deal with every day in labs worldwide.

Here are CLN’s top tips for making the most of this year’s meeting:

1. Take the time needed for professional growth and refreshment

It can be tempting to try and cram a virtual conference into one’s regular weekly schedule. Don’t. Treat this time the same as if traveling to a meeting for an in-person event. Even if it’s not possible to take several days off work, block off a number of hours over the week for uninterrupted learning and networking.

2. Plan the experience based on personal needs and goals

Just like planning time for an in-person conference, getting the most out of a virtual event takes a thoughtfully prepared schedule that considers specific goals. This way sessions, exhibits, and events will match your needs. The event platform is big—full of hundreds of sessions, exhibitors, and other special content. Navigating with a purpose in mind will help you to stay focused and make the best use of time.

Fun and networking events are also built into the program. Networking and socializing will be different in the virtual domain, but remember that professional development encompasses cultivating relationships and engaging in activities that bring much-needed encouragement and a sense of belonging.

3. Get into the right mindset

First-time virtual conference attendees might find they face some of the same challenges as people do when they’re working from home instead of an office, such as missing the normal cues that their work has begun or ended. Part of making a schedule should include a plan for starting and closing each day. Attendees who will be joining the meeting from home will do well to carve out a comfortable space that’s a little separate from where their usual downtime activities occur so they can focus.

Many sessions will be available on-demand both during and after the official meeting dates, enabling attendees to take in more sessions than during a face-to-face meeting when it’s not possible to attend sessions scheduled simultaneously. But this emphasizes the importance of a good plan: Putting off attending a session for later without a specific time for doing so might mean never getting to it.