American Public Health Association Annual Meeting- Yeonwoo Lebovitz

Name: Yeonwoo Lebovitz

Role: Doctoral Student

Program: Translational Biology, Medicine and Health

Meeting: American Public Health Association (2015)

Thanks to the VT-BEST travel award, I was able to attend the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting for the first time during my three years as a member. The APHA was first established in 1872 and is one of the largest public health advocacy groups in the United States with over 25,000 members. It is a non-profit organized by primary member sections (e.g., Epidemiology, Food and Nutrition, Maternal and Child Health), caucuses (e.g., Black Caucus of Health Workers, Caucus on Refugee and Immigrant Health), special interest groups (e.g., Pharmacy, Veterinary Public Health), forums (e.g., Cancer Forum, Genomics Forum), and a large student assembly. APHA publishes the American Journal of Public Health and it members are very active in promoting public health practices and policies at the local, national, and international levels.

I serve as the Student Assembly Liaison on the Leadership Committee of the Ethics Section, so my goals for attending the annual meeting were to finally meet with the rest of the Leadership Committee in person after years of phone meetings, to gather student feedback on how best to improve their experiences with the Ethics Section, and, of course, try to network with senior researchers in my interest areas (host-microbiota relationship and health effects) and future potential employers.

This year the annual meeting took place at the McCormick Place in Chicago, IL, which is purported to be the largest convention center in North America. An estimated 13,000 attendees were present at this meeting and I was never more pleased to be surrounded by health professionals with proper sneezing etiquette. The meeting itself was organized by topical sessions, paneled discussions, poster presentations, and keynote speeches throughout. Although several sessions of interest were ongoing simultaneously at any given time, I divided my time across Ethics Section duties, chatting with students during the poster presentations, and attending special talks on one health and zoonotic diseases, autism research, and the opening general assembly—featuring U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

The sheer size of the APHA annual meeting was intimidating at times, but I was able to prepare ahead of time with business cards and a quick elevator speech. I had great conversations with representatives at the FDA and Alzheimer’s Association tables, and collected additional potential mentors from senior APHA members. I even sent a copy of my final presentation from TBMH 5054 Fundamentals of Immunity and Infectious Diseases class on “Personalizing Regulatory Science” to the FDA representative at her request! While it was useful to form a schedule of talks to attend each day, simply wandering around can also be fruitful as random conversations start in the coffee line and then you realize you’re talking to the president of a major patient advocacy group/funding organization with grant application pointers!