November 2011

A letter to the entering class

Years ago, it was common for labs to study a single protein. Students could be assured that the lab knew how to purify that protein and how to handle it. Today it is more common for labs to study many different proteins, each with its own characteristics. When projects are selected, a student may wish for one protein and then realize that his or her exciting-sounding protein turns out to be impossible to work with. We can’t know for sure what to expect until we try a project, but one way to ensure more rapid success is to team up with another lab member on an already moving project. This kind of teamwork makes a project go faster. Individuals can have their own parts of the project but share common reagents and help troubleshoot when something isn’t working. For an adviser, this scenario is doubly reassuring, because multiple lab members can carry out complementary experiments and duplicate each other’s findings at the same time.    

In graduate school, I hope you will learn the value and power of collaboration beyond your own lab. The best scientists use multidisciplinary approaches to tackle a question, and by collaborating you can use multiple approaches and technologies to obtain a much richer and deeper answer. I can think of three times in my own lab when sending a student to another lab for a week (to David Lambright’s lab in Worcester, Mass., and Francis Barr’s lab in Munich, Germany) or a year (to Axel Brunger’s lab at Stanford University) moved their projects forward in a quantum way. Don’t be shy to collaborate. All of us are better scientists when we work together.   

We (the faculty) have an obligation to you to prepare you for the wide variety of careers that your training will qualify you for. The ASBMB will offer four career workshops in the next 12 months in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Raleigh-Durham to connect alumni representing a number of career choices with students like you who are considering all of their options. We offer four workshops every year in cities across the U.S. (Let us know if you would like to help plan one in your area.)   

The ASBMB exists to support the pursuit of biochemistry and molecular biology. We publish three excellent journals (the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Journal of Lipid Research and Molecular and Cellular Proteomics), we organize meetings large and small, we provide student and postdoc travel awards to help you participate in our meetings, and we devote a large amount of resources toward advocating for wise science policy and strong and stable science funding. Membership offers access and supports all of these activities, plus significant page charge discounts when you are ready to publish your research findings. Finally, membership includes a subscription to ASBMB Today, which I hope you will enjoy, starting with this issue. Welcome to the world of biochemistry and molecular biology; welcome to the ASBMB.   

Suzanne PfefferASBMB President Suzanne Pfeffer (pfeffer@stanford.edu) is a biochemistry professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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COMMENTS:

A very nice wish for new graduate students. It is a pity we don't have the same wishes and set the same kind of goals for students at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary school level. Imagine how equipped new graduate students would be to tackle the bold questions if they had already cut their teeth on problem solving in the process of discovering the concepts those still in academia insist on forcing them to memorize and regurgitate. Academia sees precious few of those individuals who might have been stellar scientists had they been convinced that science was little more than memorizing facts codified by white coats in the high towers of academia. The irony is that those who push through and hang on to gain and keep their places in academia have little time to devote to a meaningful science education for others save those that have done the same thing in order to arrive in graduate school. The result is predictable ...

 

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