With the abstract deadline for the AAPM 2017 Annual Meeting approaching, many of us are diligently collecting data for that perfect submission that is sure to get an oral presentation, or even a spot in the Young Investigator Symposium. (If you are unfamiliar with the structure of an AAPM abstract, an overview can be found here.) As scientists, we tend to focus on our experimental design and execution, but effective communication of these concepts and the significance of our results is just as important. With only 300 words, the AAPM abstract is particularly challenging, and the organization and clarity of a submission can make the difference between a poster and an oral presentation.
So what makes for a good submission? We can start by looking at the instructions given to abstract reviewers, which can be found here. Scientific abstracts are given a score of 1-10 based on six criteria:
- Quality of supporting data
- Scientific rigor
- Potential significance
- Interest to researchers
To reduce systematic scoring bias, reviewers are instructed to use the full score range and aim for a mean of 5-6, and they can provide comments to help break ties. Dispositions are based on loosely-defined score ranges:
Each abstract is scored by several reviewers, and the final dispositions are assigned by the track directors based on score averages, ranges, and the number of slots available for each type of presentation.
When putting your submission together, it’s important to consider that each reviewer scores about 15-40 abstracts. They are not going to spend much time on each submission, so be sure to convey the “big picture” information in a way that is concise and immediately apparent to the reviewers within the text of the abstract. This is especially important in the Purpose and Conclusions sections. In the supporting document, it is tempting to cram as much information as possible to ensure that the reviewers understand the details and context of your work. However, an overload of information may force them to skim over the document, missing the points you were trying to make entirely. It is generally most effective to convey information graphically in the supporting document with as little text as possible, and an explicitly-labeled statement of innovation and impact set at the top of the page apart from any other text or figures helps to focus the reviewers’ attention.
One final piece of advice: don’t underestimate the importance of peer editing when finalizing your submission. It is all too easy to write something that seems clear, but others will find confusing until you rephrase the text or include extra details. The reviewers of your abstract don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about your research topic as you do, and they won’t have the option of asking you for clarification when they assign their scores.
Now that your submission is refined and polished, what are your chances of getting an oral presentation, or even an elusive spot in the Young Investigator Symposium? The good news is that it is very unlikely that your submission will be rejected: in 2016, over 97% of submissions were accepted. Roughly half were given poster presentations. The Young Investigator Symposium was very competitive, with over 150 submissions vying for 10 spots. Submission numbers and acceptance rates are summarized in the tables below: