January 2011

Looking back on the ASBMB undergraduate poster competition

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Undergraduate Affiliate Network will host its 15th annual Undergraduate Student Research Poster Competition in Washington, D.C. on April 9. The competition has grown from just under 50 participants in 1997 to almost 180 in 2010. To celebrate this anniversary, we interviewed a number of former poster competition award winners to learn how ASBMB has affected their scientific careers.

HernandezHector H. Hernandez

Hector H. Hernandez won a poster competition award in 1999 for his poster titled “Modeling the cytochrome C reductase domain of spinach nitrate reductase.” That year, the society’s annual meeting was held in the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Calif. Hector recalls being amazed by the number and diversity of the participants: “I remember walking into the assembly hall in the Moscone Center in San Francisco and being struck by how many people were there. It was like a coming home to me. These individuals were like me, thought like me and approached unknown questions in a systematic manner looking for answers that push our understanding of the world around us. The other thing that struck me was the diversity of the members of the scientific community. Although the people there spoke many languages and were from diverse backgrounds, the common language of science united them.”

Hector started his professional science career at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Fla., where he became involved in the National Institutes of Health Bridges to the Baccalaureate program. The program offered him the opportunity to conduct summer research in Michael Barber’s laboratory in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida. While at USF, Hector presented his award-winning poster at the San Francisco ASBMB meeting and met his future graduate advisor. Hector’s research in the Barber lab also led to a peer-reviewed publication in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics (1). After graduating, Hector continued on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for both graduate school and postdoctoral experience in the labs of Catherine L. Drennan and Janelle R. Thompson. Currently, Hector studies how microbes adapt to extreme environments as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar in the department of civil and environmental engineering at MIT.

“The ASBMB-UAN experience gave me the opportunity to go and experience an international scientific conference,” says Hector. “Before that, my only contact was with my lab and department members at my academic institution. I do not want to diminish these experiences, but the ASBMB-UAN experience opened up a whole different world to me. I enjoyed seeing how old friends met and caught up on science and life during the conference. These interactions confirmed that being a scientist is a fruitful and rewarding life. It was great to see how scientists who do not always agree on an interpretation of a fact could still be civil and even friendly to each other.”

Attending the annual meeting and participating in the poster competition also had a major impact on Hector’s career path. He explains, “The ASBMB conference was where I met my Ph.D. advisor. If it were not for that interaction, I do not believe that I would have had the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at MIT. I do not think I could emphasize enough the impact that interaction has made on my life. It is these fortuitous encounters that are possible at a poster session or in short talks that can present opportunities that go far beyond the ability of an undergraduate to comprehend at the time. It is only long after the event that you begin to comprehend and appreciate the significance of that interaction.”


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