5 Survival Tips for Attending ASCO

Last updated: May 2023

If you have never attended ASCO's annual conference at McCormick Place in Chicago, the experience can be somewhat overwhelming. To better prepare, check out the tips below to help you navigate and survive the intensely busy five-day event that brings 45,000 professionals together during ground-breaking cancer research announcements.

Finding a hotel

Book your hotel early. Hotel rates are significantly higher during the ASCO conference. ASCO’s Patient Advocacy team secures a block of rooms for scholarship recipients and other advocate attendees; however, they can run out months before ASCO. If you are waiting to hear if you qualify for an ASCO scholarship, you may want to book a hotel even before you receive official notification. Just be careful to book a hotel that allows you to cancel with no penalty. Then do not forget to cancel or you will be charged. Hotel rates vary greatly. I have stayed in the cheapest ones and some a bit more upscale. Frankly, most likely, you will spend very little time in your hotel room. Your time will be spent at McCormick Place, commuting back and forth to McCormick Place, attending pharma advocacy briefings and evening networking receptions. So if you want to save some money, stay at Inn of Chicago. If you were able to secure a room at the hotel located at McCormick Place, you would probably pay close to $500 a night. You may be able to find a reasonable rate for a hotel near the airport. However, allow two to three hours into your busy schedule for commuting each day.

Take advantage of the ASCO iPlanner

Download the ASCO iPlanner app as soon as it becomes available, usually about a month before the conference. The iPlanner is phenomenal. In addition to presentation slides and speaker bios, it allows you to submit questions to speakers during their presentations. It also features a customizable schedule that you can add meetings and appointments. If you lose your bearings in the mammoth conference center, you can quickly and easily use the app to get directions to your next session. The ASCO iPlanner includes a wealth of constantly updated information you may be using long after the conference ends. The app allows you to add your notes during scientific sessions. Your saved notes may come in handy later. For example, ASCO requires scholarship recipients to complete a written report following the conference. These notes will help you with that.

Check out the poster sessions

Be sure to allow time to attend the lung cancer poster sessions. The first time I attended, I mistakenly assumed these lung cancer poster sessions were ongoing throughout the conference. However, they are only available for a few hours. Oftentimes, investigators will be available at the poster to discuss their research and answer attendee questions. There are hundreds of lung cancer posters, so browse through the rows and see what piques your interest.

What should I wear?

Wear comfortable shoes. Even if you remain at McCormick Place the entire day, you likely will do a lot of walking from session to session. (Wear your FitBit or other step-counting devices to get credit for your steps! Last year ASCO even had a friendly step counting competition.) Bring a sweater or jacket. Spring in Chicago is unpredictable. Even if the temperature is warm, the wind makes it feel chilly. Business casual is fine. Some may enjoy dressing up a bit more for evening events, but it is usually not necessary. That being said, ASCO begins on Friday and ends on Tuesday. If you change your outfit even once a day, you will need to pack a minimum of five outfits. So you probably need to check luggage for your flight.

Others tips to keep in mind

Below are a few other tips for new ASCO attendees:

  • If your feet are up to it, and the weather is nice, take a long lakeside walk from the McCormick Place to Grant Park.
  • Ride the free shuttle, when you can. It’s comfortable and the buses drive along a route closed to other traffic, so it may even be faster than a taxi.
  • Attend networking receptions and advocacy briefings, which in addition to being informative will reduce your food expenses.
  • Likewise, all advocates attending ASCO -- even if they did not receive a scholarship -- are welcomed at the Advocates Lounge where free breakfast and lunch is oftentimes available.
  • Finally, you cannot attend every session that interests you. You may miss some sessions simply because your brain cannot absorb any more information or your feet simply cannot take another step. Try to schedule some downtime to enjoy the city, friends or just to relax away from the craziness of 40,000 people gathering under one roof.

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