Musing of a Contemporary Pathologist

A Tale of Two Meetings; the microscope meets the pen

In one month, March 2016, I attended two seemingly widely disparate meetings.

The 105thth annual meeting of the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP) was held at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, March 12-18. The 16thth annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center from March 30 to April 2.

The USCAP meeting is the principal pathology meeting for academic pathologists. I have attended USCAP meetings for approximately 40 years and look forward to it each year both because of the exciting content of the presentations and also for the many opportunities to see many old friends and colleagues and, especially, former students. It is a meeting committed to learning new things about diseases and also exploring new ways to do old things (“re-search”). I am now clearly, both in appearance and experience, one of the more senior people at USCAP and, for that reason, the meeting is also somewhat melancholic as I think of the many brilliant, creative and interesting pathologists who were valued friends but are no longer with us.

In contrast, this was my first AWP meeting. One of the many surprises was to see so many people who looked a lot like me – gray hair and wrinkles. I expected to see only young people. The AWP Conference is the largest meeting of its kind for writers, teachers, students, editors and publishers. I am in my first semester as a candidate for the M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) degree from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I am hoping to write fiction better than I have before. I am also a new member of AWP.

Each conference included special lectures by luminaries in the field. At USCAP some lectures are named in honor of past contributors to both USCAP and to academic pathology (e.g. Maude Abbott, a founder of USCAP, Nathan Kaufman, Harvey Goldman and others). The 2016 keynote lecturer at AWP was Claudia Rankine, whose remarkable, exciting and challenging book, Citizen – An American Lyric, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Coincidentally, Citizen was the featured reading during the time of my studies at VCFA this past January.

There were striking  similarities between the two meetings as well as some differences, listed in the following chart and discussed in the succeeding text.




# attendees







mid-20’s à old

young-20s à old


8 AM – 9 PM

9 PM – 6 PM*

podium presentations



poster presentations



audiovisual presentations



content handouts




yes, many

yes, many

*a few special lectures took place after 6 PM

The photographs below show a small part of the USCAP exhibition hall (top), a view of one area of the scientific poster presentations at USCAP (middle) and the AWP exhibition hall (bottom). The exhibitions were similar in having both booksellers and magazine/journal displays. However, USCAP also had elaborate presentations spotlighting scientific instruments, pathology techniques and supplies, as well as representation from reference laboratories, including some based at major medical centers. AWP’s relatively modest table displays included many small, and a few large, publishers. There were representatives of creative writing programs, mostly from academic institutions throughout the United States but also some from other countries (e.g. United Kingdom, Australia and France). There were displays for forthcoming writing conferences and writing workshops, about literary arts organizations, and many literary magazines – I was surprised to see how many literary magazines were represented, many of them heretofore unknown to me. The table advertising “Paris Café Writing – Slip Away for a Week in Paris” was decidedly tempting; I could almost taste the baguette avec jambon et gruyere as well as the delicious glass of vin rouge.

USCAP 2016 exhibits USCAP exhibits

USCAP 2016 postersUSCAP posters

APW exhibits

AWP exhibits

How did the two meetings differ?

The commercial exhibitions are bigger, brighter and decidedly more costly at USCAP. At USCAP the coffee breaks come with multiple, easily accessible tables of coffee, tea, and soft drinks scattered in the exhibition area. At AWP you have to buy your own from a food vendor in the lobby. Ample evidence that USCAP is far more affluent than AWP—both because of the commercial supporters and the higher cost of registration—is found not only at the coffee breaks but in the numbers of support staff, the abundance of printed materials, even the signage.

Although there was no dress code for either meeting there were far more jackets and ties on the men at USCAP and far more dresses and skirts on the ladies. Indeed, I saw only rare tied men, other than myself, on the first day at the AWP meeting. Even I abandoned the tie for the following days at AWP. More than a few of the gray-haired attendees at AWP looked as if they were just coming from a commune and preparing for Woodstock. Although a pony-tailed man could be found at USCAP, more of them were seen at AWP. There were also many more jeans, on both men and women, at AWP.

The most dramatic difference reflected the practice of Pathology; at USCAP images and scientific data were everywhere. Almost 100% of the presentations and posters included pathology images and/or displays of data—bar graphs and pie charts, lists of patient data, testing results, data about immunopathology reactions and molecular tests—data, data and more data. All of the USCAP presentations—ALL!—used PowerPoint. I didn’t see any use of audiovisual material at AWP, although I only managed to attend a small fraction of the presentations.

Another dramatic difference was the background spirit. At both meetings there was a palpable level of enthusiasm. At USCAP it was most marked at the poster sessions where presenters, including many residents, were able to discuss their research with experienced and knowledgeable experts in the field. You can almost feel the energy at the posters in the image above. Since the posters are displayed by specialty (heart, lung, liver, etc) and since pathologists tend to devote more time to their areas of special interest, the posters are a good place to meet friends/colleagues from many institutions. A few of the podium presentations generated probing questions and heated discussions, but most were received only with polite applause. At AWP the great enthusiasm seemed to be accompanied by equal doses of joy. There was much more to learn at USCAP, and it was easier to get ‘information overload,’ but AWP was a more cheerful, less serious meeting.

The AWP meeting, with its many attendees, attests to the fact that neither the art of writing nor the pleasure of reading is yet extinct. Indeed, there are more than 1,000,000 new books published each year, including more than 300,000 in the United States (China leads with greater than 400,000 and the United Kingdom – think of the size and population of the UK compared to China and USA – is third with almost 200,000).

USCAP is predominantly attended by Americans and Canadians but it is definitely an international meeting with participants from many countries of the world. Although there are many more people at AWP the group of participants is relatively homogeneous.

Next year’s USCAP meeting is again in March, in San Antonio; I will almost certainly be there since I am actively involved in the History of Pathology Society but also because I still want to learn some more about the beautiful art-and-science that is Pathology. The AWP meeting will be in Washington, D.C., in early February: for reasons other than the likely low temperature I probably won’t be able to attend that very enjoyable meeting but will look forward to 2018.



3 Responses to “A Tale of Two Meetings; the microscope meets the pen”

  1. PHILIP KURNIT says:

    What, no autopsies at USCAP? That would bring up the attendance! Marketing, marketing —– when are you guys going to learn about the right way to do business?

  2. Regina says:

    A very interesting comparison. Scientific vs artistic.

  3. Interesting comparisons and contrasts. How wonderful to be deeply engaged in these two passions that have brought you so much joy over the years.

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