Presenting at the 2021 ISS

Part 1: University of Pittsburgh Will Be Calling for Abstracts Soon. What Will Your Response Be?

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Not long after the 2020 International Seating Symposium (ISS) closes in Vancouver, the University of Pittsburgh will call for abstracts for the next symposium. Beginning in May 2020, presenters can submit abstracts for the 37th ISS, March 18-20, 2021, in Pittsburgh, Pa., U.S.A.

If you’d like to do a presentation there, you’re not alone. The ISS is one of the premier events in seating and wheeled mobility, and to get accepted to present, you need more than just a great idea.

Richard Schein, Ph.D., MPH, is a Research Scientist in the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology at the University of Pittsburgh. He joins Meghan Wander, MPA Ed., Education and Training Manager and ISS Symposium Manager, in the planning and administration of the U.S.-based seating symposiums. Schein and Wander oversee the call for abstracts and offered these tips on making your submission as effective as possible.

What Should You Talk About?

The range of possible topics is large, Wander said. “I don’t think they all need to be clinical, but they all need to have relevancy to the field,” she explained. Don’t forget that this is an international event: “It’s hard for us to accept topics that might only be pertinent to one country or one region of a certain country. Pick a topic that can be applicable to a clinical setting, an educational setting [and/or] an administrative setting.”

“What we’ve seen over the last two ISS’s in the States is growth in anything pediatric,” Schein said. “Evaluations are saying, ‘We want more pediatric mobility and advanced workshops.’ We also want to see funding scenarios like Meghan described, because it is an international conference. We want scenarios that involve case-based learning, policy and funding situations, administrative solutions, and seating solutions from individuals’ respective countries and clinics.”

What Presentation Format Should You Choose?

Poster presentations are large printouts displayed for attendees to read. Presenters are available at pre-determined times to discuss their work and answer questions. “This is usually reserved for students or people who have done research on a topic,” Wander said. “It’s our smallest area right now, but we’d love to grow it as much as we can.”

Papers, the shortest type of presentation formally delivered to an audience, are 15 minutes long, with five more minutes for Q&A. “Your paper should at least be submitted to a professional journal, if it has not yet been accepted,” Wander said. “This is ideal for people who might not want to spend an hour talking. Or this is a very focused research project that you are able to conduct in a 15-minute overview and then further discuss questions that people might have.

“The two other sessions are one-hour and pre-conference sessions. A pre-conference session varies between four and eight hours. Topics are a miniature deep-dive or provide some sort of hands-on element. The majority of courses are clinically focused, because this is an opportunity for people working in clinics to physically show how they’re able to accomplish something. When you want to provide in-depth knowledge on a specific operation or task, this is a good place to do it.”

The one-hour session format “is more of a theoretical overview,” Wander said. “You don’t have as much time to do a demonstration because of time restraints.”

What Level Is Your Presentation?

Except for posters, sessions are rated Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced to indicate the level of content attendees can expect.

“I think what sometimes discourages people from submitting abstracts is they might not think they’re at a certain stature in the field,” Wander said. “What we’re looking for, though, is someone who is passionate about the topic. No one wants to sit in a session and have 25 slides read to them. But if the presenter uses those slides as a baseline and then presents the material in a way that shows their passion, their love, their drive for the field, that’s what really brings attendees into a session.”

Schein agreed: “One of the things we look for is a passion for spreading knowledge. Look at yourself and how versed you are in that specific topic. If it’s something that’s brand new and something you’re a novice at, you’re seeking to build foundational knowledge. With intermediate, you’re looking to refine or hone in on certain skills or advancing knowledge on that topic. And then for advanced — our committee in Pittsburgh and our outside advisory committee helps us review [submissions] and when doing so can identify that this specific person has the highest degree of technical competence and mastery of a topic to be able to relay that information to an advanced audience.”

Wander added, “We always get requests for more advanced-level courses.”

Time to Submit Your Abstract

When you’re ready to submit your abstract, go to for instructions, including how many words/characters allowed, and sample abstracts.

“We look at the abstract as a short document intended to capture the interest of an attendee,” Schein said. “It should tell what your topic is about and why they should come hear it. The title is very important. It should be short: attention-catching titles are the most effective.”

“A lot of our attendees are not going to read through our program line by line,” Wander said. “They’re going to base their selections on the titles itself. That’s a vital portion of the abstract.

“On the technical side, what is your aim or your objective? You’re going to have a method of data collection or just your methods in general, and then a conclusion of what you were able to find out. It can be based on research; it can be based on clinical application.”

Presentations must include references. “This is a little scary for first-time presenters,” Wander acknowledged. But committees aren’t just expecting references from professional journals that contain the exact information that will be presented. Wander suggested “manuals that have been developed in wheelchair skills and training, or manuals presented by a supplier, if you’re doing a specific overview of a type of accessory. The only thing we ask is that you do use a reference. Sometimes people will say, ‘ATP for 20+ years.’ We appreciate your hands-on experience and dedication, but because we are an accredited university, we need [references] to make sure our attendees are getting the best-possible education.”

Wander said many questions relate to the learning objectives: “When attendees leave, what are they going to walk away with the ability to do? We try to break it down to action verbs: They’re going to be able to tell me three ideas about this specific topic, or give me three examples that could be used as a solution to x, y and z.”

The Finishing Touches

Before you click Submit, spell-check and proofread your abstract. And if you have questions, reach out to the RSTCE team. It’s better to have questions answered on the front end, before the deadline passes and the team is reviewing the abstracts of 150+ hopeful presenters.

This is the first in a series of articles in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, which produces and hosts the ISS in odd-numbered years.

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Mobility Management.

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