June 2013

Professional development for minority scientists at the annual meeting — and beyond

This article provides synopses of sessions and special events at the Experimental Biology 2013 conference that were sponsored by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Minority Affairs Committee. The well-attended sessions were aimed at expanding the knowledge base of scientists, particularly those from different backgrounds and at early or transitional career stages. While an introduction to our thematic programming on triple-negative breast cancer was featured in the April issue of ASBMB Today, other MAC sessions and events at the annual meeting included the following:
Professional development workshops for K – 12 teachers
Regina Stevens-TrussAt the Hands-on Opportunities to Promote Engagement in Science (HOPES) workshop for K – 12 teachers, Regina Stevens-Truss from Kalamazoo College directed a half-day experience for middle-school and high-school science teachers in the Boston area. The workshop attracted more than 70 teacher-participants who engaged in inquiry-based learning activities to be used ultimately in their classrooms. In addition to offering innovative pedagogies, the workshop provided a platform for college and university faculty members to collaborate and mentor the nation’s secondary-school science teachers. Scientists from across the country helped make the workshop a meaningful experience for school teachers. The workshop was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Stevens-Truss. Workshop participants and other ASBMB members are invited to submit proposals to receive up to $2,000 for classroom-centered activities. The grants issued during the first two years of the program have generated vibrant faculty-teacher partnerships across the country, and several of the models were presented to the 2013 cohort.
Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award lecture
Peter BlumbergThe Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award is given to a prominent scientist whose work exemplifies a commitment to broadening the representation of biochemists and molecular biologists to include those who have not historically pursed careers in the sciences. This year’s award went to Peter Blumberg from the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute for his relentless commitment to providing significant research experiences to students with disabilities. Blumberg’s lecture highlighted the low representation (less than 0.2 percent) of deaf employees in the science and engineering workforce. Through his extensive research endeavors to determine the mechanisms of phorbol esters and their derivatives in cell signaling, Blumberg has engaged 16 deaf students in using natural products as tools for drug discovery. In all ways, it was clear that Blumberg was worthy of this prestigious award.
The “professor rounds” mentoring network and the MAC welcome reception
Marion SewerMarion Sewer of the University of California, San Diego, coordinated a “professor rounds” experience that paired those who won minority travel awards from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s Minority Access to Research Careers program with established biochemists and molecular biologists from industry, academia and government. The mentor-protégé pairs spent one or two hours together during the meeting, often visiting posters and discussing various areas of research and career options to demystify the paths for awardees. Students also described their own projects to mentors, other awardees and ASBMB council members during the MAC welcome reception. This scholarly exchange provided an added opportunity for the students and postdoctoral fellows to discuss their work and further extend their professional networks.

Garry Dotson

Session on careers in industry
Meanwhile, Nestor Concha from GlaxoSmithKline, Garry D. Dotson from the University of Michigan and Lana Saleh of New England BioLabs discussed in the “Jobs in Industry” session those considerations to be made when deciding to enter the industrial arena, including the advantages and disadvantages. Truly capturing the essence of the discussion, Concha described an academic research career as one in which scientists makes long-term commitments to specific subdisciplines and noted that industrial careers allow periodic moves across a number of subfields. In addition, Dotson offered a first-hand account of his transitions from hospital pharmacist to industrial medicinal chemist and then to faculty member at the University of Michigan. Finally, Saleh discussed the value of completing an industrial postdoctoral fellowship. A panel discussion followed the three talks, allowing participants to ask the speakers additional questions. This led to an interesting discussion on ways to become competitive for positions in industry and the apparent lack of effort on the part of industry to hire racial and ethnic minorities for Ph.D.-level positions. It is important that government, academic and industrial agencies work to address the issue of underrepresentation. An excellent resource for those interested in industrial careers is available by here.
What’s next?
The MAC will host a mentoring and grant-writing workshop for biochemistry and molecular biology faculty in their first three years on the tenure track who have not received NSF or National Institutes of Health funding June 27 – 29 in Arlington, Va. Organizers hope the workshop will demystify the grant-application and funding systems at both agencies, promote skills in effective grantsmanship, provide networking opportunities for participants, and provide a platform upon which participants can present their proposal ideas and associated approaches and receive honest and expert feedback from successful faculty mentors and expert grant reviewers and program officers. Click here for a website describing the workshop and guidelines for submitting self-nominations.

Takita F. SumterTakita F. Sumter (sumtert@winthrop.edu) is an associate professor of chemistry at Winthrop University.

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