I traveled to the great snow covered city of Boston with a
number of other San Antonio residents (Dr. Linda
Bruce Nicholson, Dr. George Perry,
Dr. Teresa Evans, Dr.
Rheaclare Fraser, Dr. Patricia
Araujo, Nathan Mitchell to just name a few) armed with
winter coats and ready to engage the world network of scientists and society
members at the Experimental
Biology Meeting on March 27 – April 1 in Boston, Massachusetts.
A number of us are members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular
Biology (ASBMB) and attended the career development events and poster
session. The morning panel speakers ranged in career options from the bench,
the boardroom, and everywhere in between.
Lunch and Dinner with
I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Joanna Klapacz from The Dow Chemical Company for lunch and hearing
about her transition from the bench to now being a product sustainability consultant
She shared her insights on the team dynamic found in
industry settings, how to set yourself apart, and how to continue to find ways
to mentor and engage the outside STEM community.
The other tablemates were at various points in their careers
but were interested in consulting and industry settings. So those further along
could provide their experiences as well at the job search process and get
After the opening lecture by Dr. Joan Steitz
on noncoding RNAs, there the opening reception provided an opportunity for
conference attendees to hear about the outreach efforts supported by ASBMB.
Evans, director of the Office
of Career Development, at UT Health Science Center, presented a poster on
the “Teen Meetings Outside the Box (TeenMOB):
Building Science Communication Skills through a Network of Graduate Level
Trainees, Science Teachers and High School Teens.”
Also in attendance was another member of the ASBMB Public
Outreach Committee, Dr. Hudson
Freeze. The famed glycobiologist that discovered Taq polymerase who works in San Diego at the Sanford-Burnham Medical
Research Institute on
treatments for rare childhood diseases (perhaps the inspiration for
Harrison Ford’s character in Extraordinary Measures-he kind of looks like him).
Dr. Freeze listened attentively to everyone’s background and
in each instance, propelled us into trying to make our science communication
skills better, and how to stretch outside our comfort zone with fun extracurricular
activities like acting and singing.
His enthusiasm and passion is infectious and the whole
community should be excited when he steps into his leadership roles with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental
Day 2: Brass tacks –
Getting $$ and how to spend it
The official EB2015 fun begun: the posters and vendor floor
opened – that’s where the real magic happens!
As always the main exhibit floor of the conference is the
best place for learning the most innovative ways to do the fundamental bench
work that flourishes into these passionate stories we hear about all week in plenary
The posters always encompass the newest ideas performed by
all trainee level ranges and shown in their raw form.
You can almost fell the thick energy swarming through the
crowds as they snack on their popcorn, hear about the new assays, kits and
devices, and see the science in action at the posters. The ability to approach
anyone and have them relate their ideas to you can stimulate sparks that start
a collaboration, innovative ideas, and mentoring bonds.
Trainees come primed with freshly printed business cards and
soak up the buzz in the air. Conference attendees tote around their bags of vendor
swag and piles of literature to be digested later on the plane ride home.
The vendors entice people to stop by with dazzling games,
songs and freebies. The attendees hear
all about the newest techniques companies, large and small, have developed and
need our help testing and marketing. Such a symbiotic relationship!
And where does all this money come from to buy the reagents
and pay the trainees? As federal funding become more competitive, many people
are pursuing other funding sources.
This year’s panel on “Who SHOULD be funding biomedical
research?” was well attended and very engaged. This interactive session
featuring Dr. Claire
Pomeroy (Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation), Dr. Jai Ranganathan (SciFund
Challenge), and Dr.
Venkatesh Narayanamurti (Harvard School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences) allowed for stimulating conversation from passionate audience members
and the panelists.
The topic turned on the heat when an audience member wanted
to ask if the red states or the blue states were to blame. The moderator Dr. Ben Corb, tried to steer
the conversation away from politics but as always, the topic drifted back up.
The ASBMB public outreach and policy efforts were also highlighted
as way for society members to be able to make their voices heard at the local
level and affect change. Crowdfunding was brought up as a possible option for
But seeing that the quality of science is going down as
people fight to make their data more impactful to get more grants, the level of
scrutiny might also go down with crowdfunding holding little limits and
oversight on how you spend the money.
The international community of scientists will have to come
up with a more creative way to stimulate funding and how to regulate it.
Day 3: Improv for
STEM Professionals: Creating Engaging Conversations
Today’s events provided opportunities to learn hands on
skills in science communication. Dr. Teresa Evans talked about career
development opportunities that happen in San Antonio and other panel members
discussed what happens all over the country.
Dr. Evans and Dr. Kim Mulligan discussed how the trainees
could lead their own opportunities and develop leadership skills and how we can
think outside the box and focus efforts on the young groups that get overlooked
sometimes, K-12 ages.
Two sessions were focused on improv for scientists and using
it to learn how to be attentive to an audience and how to let the audience’s
physical and audible responses inform how the talk is given.
These skills of deep listening, flexibility and spontaneous
responses are not easy for most people and need to be practiced outside the
confines of traditional scientific training. Why not do it somewhere fun? Like
The daytime event allowed conference attendees to get up out
of their seats and get moving. The evening session brought the greater Boston
area in and allowed us to see new sites in the city like Faneuil Hall
Dr. Raquell Holmes
led participants through a combination of dialogue, comedic interaction and
then a performance and discussion. The local community brought in area
teachers, hospital nurses and doctors and those just interested in comedy and
This engaged culture
allowed for a “living experiment” in how scientific conversations can flow and
ebb depending on who your audience is.
We learned to focus on how to make our conversation partners
look great instead of stumbling in our minds with what the next thing to say to
make ourselves shine.
Definitely a recommendation for all – those who like comedy
and those that need more practice in how to relate personally with others.