October 2010

The First ASBMB Graduate Student Research and Career Symposium


This past August, ASBMB launched a series of regional graduate-student research and career symposia with a one-day event at Northwestern University Medical School. (Titled "ASBMB Kicks off Regional Meeting Series" in print version.)

Student meeting organizers Darja Pollpeter, David Courson and David Taussig.

As American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology President Suzanne Pfeffer noted in her inaugural column in the July issue of ASBMB Today, one of her top goals for the society was to do more to address the needs of ASBMB’s youngest members (and potential members), namely graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. And, just recently, ASBMB showcased one of its major efforts in this initiative by hosting a graduate-student research and career symposium in Chicago, Ill., this past August.

This special one-day event, held at Northwestern University Medical School, was the first of what will hopefully be many regional meetings dedicated to students and postdocs. Although these meetings will feature research talks and poster presentations, their primary goal is to help young scientists advance in their careers by providing panels that address topics such as career options, applying for grants and balancing work and family.

Pfeffer got the ball rolling for this special symposium with help from Benjamin Glick, her former lab mate at Stanford University and current professor at the University of Chicago. However, she notes the event would not have been possible without the three student organizers who volunteered their time to put it together: Darja Pollpeter of Northwestern University, David Courson of the University of Chicago and David Taussig of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“They deserve tremendous recognition for all their hard work,” she says, “especially considering this meeting was a true pilot project by ASBMB.”

“I definitely didn’t know what to expect going in, but it was a fun time putting the meeting together, and it gave me valuable experience for the future,” notes Pollpeter, a fifth-year graduate student who also is president of her program’s student organization.

Courson and Taussig agree with the assessment and also note that the whole process, which involved setting up the meeting location and schedule (the Northwestern medical campus offered a centralized location and good transit options) as well as handling the all-important task of inviting the speakers, was not extremely time-consuming and encourage students at other schools to help organize similar events if opportunities arise.

The afternoon was dedicated to research, and featured six short scientific talks by students, as well as more than 20 poster presentations.

And, the hard work paid off. Despite the uncertainties that come with any new endeavor (for example, how and how much to advertise) and the fact that the event was scheduled for a summer Saturday, more than 100 people attended, most of whom were graduate students or postdocs at universities across the greater Chicago metropolitan area.

The symposium included a pair of career panels in the morning, featuring seven professionals in various disciplines of biological sciences, such as educators, science writers, patent lawyers and administrators. These panels were followed by a catered lunch, which gave attendees the opportunity to mingle with career panel presenters and collect additional information. The afternoon was dedicated to research, and featured six short scientific talks by students, as well as more than 20 poster presentations, while the event finally closed with a special topics panel that discussed issues based on responses to a survey given by attendees prior to the meeting.

“Overall the symposium was definitely well-received, particularly the career panels, which I think were the most successful part of the day,” Pollpeter says.

“If we could change anything it might be to space the career panels out over the whole day, since we did notice a lower turnout for the afternoon science sessions.” adds Taussig. “But that’s a good learning experience.”

As expected, the symposium also provided great networking opportunities. “I saw a lot of business cards being handed out,” says Courson, who managed to pick up a few contacts himself and got some useful information to boot.

“Even though my wife and I are both planning to do postdocs, she is potentially interested in science writing,” Courson says. “She couldn’t attend, so I took in some sessions on her behalf and learned a lot about how to pursue a career writing about science.”

Pfeffer, who assisted the student organizers through regular conference calls and also attended the event, was quite pleased with the symposium overall and hopes that it can show what students can accomplish given the opportunity. And, she also is confident that this symposium in the Windy City will be just the first of many regional career meetings devoted to some of our youngest and brightest scientists.

Nick Zagorski (nzagorski@asbmb.org) is a science writer at ASBMB.

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