Annual Meeting 2023

10 Tips to Submit Your Abstract for the ASGCT Annual Meeting

Phil Tai, PhD - December 05, 2022

Wondering how to craft a great Annual Meeting abstract submission? Phil Tai, PhD, a member-volunteer abstract reviewer, shares his top 10 tips and considerations for researchers drafting their work. Submit by Feb. 3!

The weather is getting cooler. Pumpkin spice has been dominating our taste buds, and we are spending more time with family and friends. Yes, it feels like that time of the year again—the ASGCT Annual Meeting abstract submission deadlines are upon us! 

Research group leaders and PIs are strategizing what stories their group will be ready to present in May. Postdocs are nervously anticipating whether this will be the year they'll present a career-altering oral presentation. Students, tired of attending Zoom meetings, hope that they will finally go to a conference in person. And the ASGCT scientific committees dedicate themselves to organizing another highly anticipated meeting. Researchers of all make and creed are carefully crafting the perfect abstract to gain spots as oral or poster presenters (and many more are waiting till the very last minute). 

A well-polished abstract is clear, exciting, and attracts the attentions of your colleagues, patient groups, future employers, and dare I say it, investors. However, the hidden audience has always been the abstract reviewers. You may wonder: What should I include in my abstract? What do reviewers look for? 

To answer these questions, it first helps to know that reviewers are your colleagues. They are selected from a list of ASGCT members who have volunteered for the job. 

It also helps to know a little bit about the process: When you submit an abstract, you are prompted to select a primary and secondary topics. This selection will establish the session your presentation may end up being placed into. Importantly, the choice will also determine your review committee. 

Each committee consists of about 5–6 reviewers, and each reviewer is tasked to consider all abstracts in their category, which can be 100+ abstracts. After individual reviews, the scores are combined and discussed by the committee. It should be noted that reviewers with conflicts of interest on specific abstracts are excused from providing those scores. 

The top-ranked abstracts are selected for oral presentations. Poster presentations must meet the following criteria: 1) they aren't simple advertisements of a product or service, and 2) they are clearly written in English.  

The review committees change every year. They are composed of scientists with different areas of expertise and career backgrounds (academics, clinicians, industry scientists, and disease advocacy groups).

Now that the basic process is understood, what are some general considerations for drafting a winning abstract? Below is a list of ten tips and considerations that may help you as you draft your abstract.

 

  1. There is no standard format, but clarity is vital. Aside from word limits, ASGCT does not have a standard format for abstracts. It does not need to be subdivided into Background, Methods, Results, and Conclusions sections, but any well-written abstract should contain the elements in that basic order. Color figures are allowed, but they are not necessary. You should not assume that including a figure will elevate your score. An image should only be included if you think it will help to clarify a complex methodology or to summarize an involved set of results.

 

  1. Make sure you know the topic you are submitting to and craft your abstract accordingly.  Also make sure that your abstract will be competitive in that category. Reviewers are asked to identify abstracts that are not good fits and exclude them from review. Abstracts deemed off-topic may even be given low scores. AAV Vectors – Virology, Vectorology, and Engineering and Preclinical and Proof-of-Concept Studies are always popular categories, and your study may be a good fit for either. But, if your work embodies a new gene therapy strategy for ophthalmic or auditory diseases, submit to those categories instead. The trade-off is that abstracts submitted under disease-specific topics typically have in vivo data and/or use diseases-relevant models.  If your work lacks these types of analyses, the reviewers may score your abstract lower relative to others. Choose your topics carefully, and craft your abstracts to draw interest in the most strategic way possible. If this will be your first time attending ASGCT, past abstracts are available for you to download and peruse. They may help you get a sense for the different abstracts that were highlighted in previous years.

 

  1. Has your work been published? Was something similar presented in previous years?  The ASGCT Annual Meeting seeks to highlight cutting edge research; therefore, submissions should reflect unpublished work. The reviewers are asked to consider whether the work has been published or if the work was presented in previous meetings. Remember that reviewers are selected from current ASGCT members who know the field and are likely familiar with the literature. If you feel your work is derivative, but still has novelty merits, highlight this fact and be clear about what advancements you made.

 

  1. Is the work preliminary or is it close to publication? Just based on the abstract, it may be difficult to determine whether a particular study is in its early stages or nearly complete. Directly clarifying the progress of your study has its advantages. If a study is about a proof-of-concept new technology or a paradigm-shifting finding, making that fact clear would help reviewers decide whether the work has merit over other studies that are more mature. In contrast, an abstract that mentions the work is being submitted for publication will help demonstrate that the work is fully fleshed out, and that reviewers can anticipate a presentation to represent a completed story.

 

  1. Is the work unique?  Reviewers are always looking for studies that break the mold. Is your work focused on a rare disease that remains unsolved by the field? Have you developed a new technology that helps address unknowns in the gene therapy field? Have you discovered a new viral vector platform that is not AAV, adenovirus, or lentivirus? Unique studies always help add diversity and flavor to Annual Meeting sessions.

 

  1. Is the work paradigm-shifting? Studies that meet milestones for advancing gene and cell therapy treatments are always welcome. But those that change how we think about the science, or raise concerns for well-established approaches or dogmas are also essential. Revealing new challenges and new considerations for the field are equally important to making breakthroughs.

 

  1. Treat your abstract like a sales pitch. You are sure that the field will absolutely flip over your research, if only you are given the platform. An abstract is a sales pitch. The goal is to draw in an audience to your talk or poster. It goes without saying that people with similar research interests will show up; however, you must also draw in others. This is especially true if you happen to have a diverse group of reviewers who may not have full familiarity with your groundbreaking work. Clarify the problem, then describe how your work solves the problem or how it fills a gap or an unknown in the field. Share only enough detail to convey the essence of your study. Finally, do not simply describe your conclusions: place your findings within the context of the field. How does your work impact past, present, and/or future research? 

 

  1. Remember to highlight the novel aspects of your study. It may not be clear to a reviewer what makes your investigation important, or how your findings are going to contribute to the field. Remember that reviewers have to read through 100+ abstracts in a constricted time period. They also have other obligations. Although reviewers do their best to be fair and unbiased, they may key in on subjects that are familiar to them. Do not let the essential elements of your study get lost.  Ensure that the novel and impactful aspects of your study are written clearly so that they can be understood by non-experts.

 

  1. Do not bog the reader down with excessive detail. As scientists, we are inclined to provide as much explanation as possible. We can even feel that reviewers may penalize an abstract if it lacks description of rigorous testing schemas. These may be perfectly sound reactions for submitting manuscripts for publication, but are less expected for conference abstracts. For example, it may be important to report how many patients were included in an early-phase clinical trial, but less important how many technical replicates were done for qPCR experiments. Experimental rigor can be demonstrated during your presentation. Only include specific details in your abstract submission if they are necessary to convey impact or novelty.

 

  1. Be sure to clearly describe the model system(s) used. With very few exceptions, gene and cell therapy studies are translationally meaningful. Therefore, it is important to place your work within the context of the field. If the study is preclinical, does it include rodents, canine, or non-human primates? Does your study only encompass cell culture models? If the work is restricted to in vitro work, what makes the in vitro model relevant or the findings innovative? Machine learning and computer modeling approaches are cool and are rapidly changing how medical research is conducted, but technology is only meaningful if it is applied toward overcoming challenges in treating human disease. It is crucial for technical innovations to be contextualized with relevant model systems, so that reviewers can understand the value of these important studies.

 

That’s it! 

Oh, I almost forgot. Proofread your abstracts. Have your colleagues check your drafts for grammar and spelling. An abstract riddled with typos may hamper your score. Good luck on your journey toward crafting the best abstract in the bunch, and I hope to see you in LA in May!

Phil Tai, PhD, is a member-volunteer abstract reviewer and Assistant Professor at UMass Chan Medical School in the department of microbiology and physiological systems.

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