March 2012

A life of, and for, change

Seeking efficiencies

Dave R. Wilson completed a three-year postdoctoral stint at the National Institutes of Health. He was then promoted to senior research scientist at the National Institute on Aging, where he studied sirtuin 6 and got his first taste of minority outreach. 

Meanwhile, at the NIH, a newly formed group of professionals has been meeting on a monthly basis to talk about minority representation throughout the agency and to find ways to attract minority scientists to the campus. The group, SACNAS’s first professional chapter, is another Wilson brainchild, and he’s optimistic about what it might achieve.

“The federal dollars are tight these days. If all these agencies are able to understand what services or what programs (to recruit minorities) exist and what they provide, they can work together to fill positions that need attention” and maximize taxpayer dollars, Wilson explains. Today the chapter has 60 members, and Wilson anticipates it will have 200 once it’s in full swing.

Teaming up
One of SACNAS’s recent initiatives is to forge relationships with scientific associations. “My goal is to be able to connect professionals,” Wilson says. “There’s been this outcry … about how we get professional societies more involved with our membership.”

One way, Wilson determined, is to get in the trenches of professional societies and find out how their missions align with that of SACNAS. So last year Wilson joined the ranks of the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee. In just a few short months, he’s already found synergies: research funding and work-force development.

“Now young postdocs are coming out of their training and are competing with people who’ve had tenure and lost their position,” he says. “Because the NIH funding has remained flat and the NSF only had a 3 percent increase this year, nothing is going up. So the new investigators who are coming up – there’s no money for them.”

Wilson regularly serves on federal and White House roundtables, weighing in on policy matters in the interest of scientists both young and old. One recurring discussion is about the training of graduate students and postdocs for career alternatives outside academia. “It’s important,” he says, “to inform trainees that there are so many different positions that need scientific expertise that aren’t getting public exposure.”

A whole new world
Wilson is living proof that skills learned in the lab are transferrable. He credits his family and mentors with giving him the support and advice he needed to change gears time and again. He says he’s glad he’s rolled the dice and landed at SACNAS this time. “I had this unique opportunity I had to take and run with!”


Angela Hopp ( is editor of ASBMB Today.

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