Words of a WPC veteran

I have attended all except the first WPC meeting in Washington. I went to Glasgow in 2010, Montréal in 2013, Portland in 2016 and Kyoto in 2019. And, barring the unforeseen, I shall be in Barcelona in a month’s time. Each meeting has provided me with new information (both as a scientist and as a person with Parkinson’s). Each has stimulated new trains of thought, new ideas, new projects and passions. In some way or other, each has been enriching for me.

But this year more than any other, as I have felt the weight of old father time on my shoulders, I feel I have an obligation to try and pass on what I’ve learnt as a patient over the years.

WPC is overwhelming. If this is your first such conference attended, it is easy to be thunderstruck by the sheer scale and breadth of science on offer, the number of different approaches to self-management, and the friends you will make along the way. I met people in Glasgow 13 years ago that I value among my closest friends to this day. It is no exaggeration to say that I am still here because of their friendship and support. And I hope, in some small way, I have helped them. So how do you get the most out of your time at WPC? You can’t do, see or hear everything (more’s the pity). You have to be selective to get the best out of the meeting. And believe me you want to get the best! So here are some thoughts in no particular order.

1) DO YOUR HOMEWORK! You will get much more out of the meeting if you put an element of planning in place beforehand. Work out when you will arrive and leave and how the programme maps to those timings. The problem with parallel sessions is that you often want to be in two places at the same time. You have to prioritise and the first day of the conference is not the time to do it. Work out as much as possible the key sessions that you really want to attend. Don’t be distracted. Mark up your program.

2) TAKE NOTES. I have often relied on my memory but, over the years, it has become apparent that this is unreliable. Besides, by the end of the conference, there will be so many ideas swirling around in your head that you will not remember who said what when and why. Even if you just jot down the name of speakers and the odd line about what they said, it will make all the difference in the weeks that follow.

3) GO BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Sometimes it makes sense not to attend the obvious sessions with familiar titles. Challenge yourself some of the time to learn about areas that are new to you. Not all the time, obviously. But try to factor in some time for the unfamiliar.

4) ASK QUESTIONS. It can be daunting to put your hand up to ask a question. But don’t be put off. This is exactly the kind of conference where you can ask questions without fear. Speak up and be heard! But don’t personalise. This is not a forum for addressing your own treatment. Keep the questions general.

5) QUEUE FOR COFFEE. You will be surprised how much people talk in the coffee queue! The science and the ideas do not stop when the applause dies away! Always keep your ears open.

6) LAY OFF THE SANGRIA! Don’t forget, jetlag and alcohol are a poor combination. Try and hold back during the opening reception! You’ll thank me later!

7) COME AND TALK TO ME. One of the very best parts of these conferences, for me, has been making new friends, hearing what makes them tick and exchanging views.

8) ENJOY YOURSELF. If you do nothing else, this will justify your attendance and fuel your attendance at future WPC meetings. Go for it.