My personal experience on how to navigate DDW. For the first timer resident, for the hospitalist interested in a GI fellowship, for the new GI fellow and for the GI fellow exploring GI jobs.

Babu P. Mohan

5/9/20245 min read


It's that time of the year again. DDW is synonymous with excitement. Excitement of sharing research, lecture presentations, posters, meeting peers, networking, socializing, the society dinners, sponsored talks and everything else. It’s so good and refreshing to see senior attendees put down tips for new-comers on how to navigate DDW and make the best use of it.

However, as I read some of the posts, I started wondering if any of those would have actually helped me achieve what little I have achieved at this stage of my career. Reading some of the posts, I personally felt that the points might provoke anxiety rather than ensuring an enjoyable experience at DDW. So, I thought maybe I will share some of my personal tidbits.

Let me take you back to 2018 DDW at Washington DC. It was my first DDW. I was a hospitalist. I was not sure about a GI fellowship. I had no posters to present. In fact, I had only one PubMed cited publication at that time. However, I did have a goal to achieve. And that was an EB-1 green card in 5-years. I was already learning how to perform a meta-analysis on my own. I had an agenda and I knew exactly what to take home from those 4 days of the conference. (KEY: know your goals and have an agenda for the meeting)

My first time. DDW 2018 - Washington DC.

Goals: Collect as many study ideas as possible. Convert as much as possible to full manuscripts. Aim to publish as many as possible and the rest to be submitted to next year DDW as abstracts.

How: Mark down the talks that interest you. Attend them - not to learn but to get study ideas, and research questions. Walk through the poster areas when you are not attending any talks. Dont keep the poster area restricted to the 1.5 hours at lunch time. Stay there if you are not attending any talks. You will meet residents, fellows who are not that far in their career when compared to you, and would gladly share a few useful pieces of advice.

In 4 days, I collected 80+ research ideas for meta-analysis.

Network: Why? See who else is in the same boat as you. Offer help in their papers. Get your name added to their papers and see who can be a great team-mate for your own papers. That’s how I found Saurabh Chandan, Shahab Khan and Douglas Adler. You will find these three names in pretty much all of my papers published between 2018 to 2022.

Key point is that you should have a skill that you can trade for. I don’t think I would have made useful connections if I did not have the skill of performing a meta-analysis all by myself.

Honest opinion and blunt statement: No one has time to waste on you, if you don't have any skill that makes a positive impact. I am not exaggerating. I remember how many people turned away or started browsing their phones as soon as I said: ‘Hi, I am Babu, a HOSPITALIST. INTERESTED IN GI’.

Douglas Adler: A senior author, last author, senior mentor is key. Do your research well. I planned to network with four senior people. I met all four of them. Searched for their names on the DDW app and went 15-20 minutes early and had the opportunity to talk to all them personally (before the rest of the crowd hit the room). I offered my skill of performing meta-analysis and two of them said - “Yes, please email me your paper”.

That was all my agenda for my first DDW. Short, sweet and something with a huge impact when I think about it retrospectively.

Result: As I mentioned. I had 80+ study ideas that I took home with me. Networking was a great success. Come 2019, 2020, 2021 - Dr. Adler would be the last author in all my papers. And later, he would take me as a GI fellow at University of Utah! Also, a little further, he would select me as the Editor of BioStats for GIE journal.

2019 DDW - San Diego.

My 2nd DDW. Agenda was clear. Same as last time. However, I had no plans to network. Honestly I was doing good with my papers, and my team members. Just 2 co-authors (Saurabh & Shahab) and one last author (Dr. Adler). I had some 15+ posters to present. The goal this time was to connect with GI fellowship program directors & GI chiefs. I had decided that come summer of 2019, I would be applying to GI fellowship. So, I stayed focussed on only talking to PDs and GI Chiefs, who I might bump into during the interview travels.

I already know how to gather research ideas. So, I would be doing that anyways. As an ADD-ON, this time I had to know people who might call me for an interview.

I gathered information on such people through Dr. Adler, and my friend Saurabh Chandan.

Result: On the interview trail, it is nice to meet with interviewing faculty when you have already met them once at DDW. In addition, I met GI fellows to know inside stories and information on GI programs. Know beforehand if a program would be a good fit for you or not good fit for you.

If you allow me to share an interesting thing. Few people started knowing me at DDW-2019. Between 2018 and 2019, I had roughly 10 meta-analysis papers published. The GI community is small and all you have to do is to make yourself known on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. With this, I really didn’t have to network after my first DDW. I remember one person who came and introduced himself and we started chatting. I didn’t know who he was. A bit later he also realized that I didn’t know him. “Are you on Twitter?” He asked. I said, “No, boss”. Well, that’s how I first met the Twitter star Mohammad Bilal.

2020, 2021 - DDW were virtual. I started my GI fellowship. First year fellow life is always busy.

2022 DDW: San Diego.

Goals: Clarity on GI job. Academic vs Private.

What does it feel like working for a hospital, or for a university, with teaching and research expectations? And how are private GI people making 1M+ per annum?

Know who to connect and talk on these topics. Get clear ideas so that you can decide your career. By this time I was decently known in my immediate circle, apart from Dr. Adler, Dr. Kochhar, Dr. Iyer, Bilal all made time to talk to me and share their valuable advice.

However, a one to one information from a private practice GI person was missing. You cannot get all the information you need at a conference I guess.

On the networking side: Additional people met me for research works, and international collaborations were made.

I did not actively look out for ideas at this meeting. My goals were different.

2023 DDW, Chicago.

I had decided what I wanted to do in terms of my job.

This time, the meeting was mostly mentoring others. Residents, fellows and other hospitalists who were interested in GI.

For myself, I knew I would be interested in GI society committees. So, I was trying to get information on that. Additionally, I was focussing on getting information on how to navigate my future job in private practice. I noted down a few things, however I couldn't make any meaningful conclusions without actually starting my job. So, these would have to wait until 2024 DDW.

In summary, know your goal, and use your time at the conference highly focussed to that.

For first timers:

  • When networking, make sure you know your skill/ strength that you can trade for. If you are not sure, take your time. Nothing beats a best first impression.

  • Get as many research ideas/ questions as possible.

  • Network with others who are in the same stage as you and gather information on what they are doing.

  • Try to get that one mentor who hopefully will be your light showing the way in the next couple of years towards fellowship and if lucky, even beyond.