March 3rd, 2019

A Few Thoughts on the Day Before CROI — Our Best (and Quirkiest) Scientific Meeting

As I’ve written here numerous times, the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections — or “CROI” (rhymes with “toy”) — is the best of the scientific meetings on HIV. It starts March 4 in Seattle.

Bringing together the perfect blend of clinical, translational, and epidemiologic research, CROI consistently boasts the highest density of worthwhile content in any of our meetings. Even in years with no major breakthroughs, scientists present numerous studies that move the field forward in important ways.

So yay for CROI. I’m a huge fan, never miss it.

But … it has always had its unusual qualities, some of them lovable, others just … quirky.

For example:

1. You have to apply. All meetings require registration — name, address, affiliation, other demographic data — but only CROI asks for a list of publications. While no one is rejected based on their lack of productivity (I hope), this process always makes me feel weird. Is there a panel going through this list, looking at citations, impact factors, h-index, Altmetric scores?

At least they no longer ask for my MCATs and kids’ APGAR scores.


2. Distinctive swag. Upon registering, you are handed a stylish backpack, emblazoned with the letters CROI, the name of the city, and a graphic of a virion. Refreshingly free of pharmaceutical advertising, the bags are nice enough that my (APGAR-approved) children periodically carried them to school, garnering either mystification or, very rarely, an insider acknowledgment from other HIV specialists (or their kids).

But there’s more — inside the bags there’s a square notebook that would please even the most discerning graphic designer, and a nifty pen. The notebook sometimes has faint gridlines, in case you want to sketch out a Kaplan-Meier plot.

Did I mention the backpacks?

3. It’s cold. Held in February or March, most commonly in Seattle or Boston (or in years past, Chicago), CROI will never attract participants eager to work on their suntans. This meeting is for serious scientific exchange, people! As if to prove this point, the Climate Gods even made Atlanta absolutely freezing in 2013 — the only year the meeting took place in the South.

Since February and March are still very much winter, a few notable snowstorms have hit the Boston CROIs — including two at both ends of the meeting last year. But let the records show that, owing to some marvellous cosmic luck, Seattle hosted the meeting during Boston’s 2015 “Snowmageddon.”

Remember that?

4. Now there’s a test. New this year, registrants received this via email:

I’ve been assured by one of the CROI organizers that this test is for CME purposes, and that scores won’t be made public.

And that’s a good thing, too, since the questions are unbelievably difficult — if we had questions this tough on the ID board exams, hardly anyone would pass.

(Maybe I should concentrate more on my work, and stop worrying about my suntan.)

To be fair, CROI is a lot less quirky than it used to be. The conference used to release its upcoming dates less than a year before the event, wreaking havoc on academic and clinical schedules — and triggering some serious sleuthing,with leaks on the date coming from some very high profile sources.

(If you’re reading this now, Principal Source of Embargoed CROI Dates, your secret is still good with me.)

Hooray, those days are over, and we now get plenty of notice! CROI 2020 will be in Boston, March 8-11, so save the date, and bring your overcoat.

Which reminds me — got a funny email after last year’s Boston meeting; mystery still unsolved!


3 Responses to “A Few Thoughts on the Day Before CROI — Our Best (and Quirkiest) Scientific Meeting”

  1. Joel Gallant says:

    I gave up on the pre-conference test after the very first question, when the CLINICAL assessment asked a series of arcane questions about basic microbiome research (and in doing so, violated the “no multiple true-false questions” rule that was drilled into our heads at the ACP).

    As for weather, I should point out that we have been remarkably lucky with Seattle weather over the years, and today’s glorious sunshine suggests that we might get luck again. The same cannot be said for Your Fair City, however!

  2. marvin says:

    its the type of email your mother would send but she knows you’re from boston.

  3. RL says:

    Maybe he thought you were Paul Farmer.

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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