An ion channel connection
Years ago as an assistant professor just starting my own lab, I was investigating Ser/Thr protein phosphatases that acted on sodium channels.
At a Society for Neuroscience meeting, a close colleague from my former postdoc lab suggested I view a poster by David Armstrong, a highly accomplished electrophysiologist. His work described regulation of a potassium channel by a phosphatase with similar properties to one that I was chasing. I got very excited and told David all the ideas his work suggested to me. He kindly suggested that I obtain his cell line from him and do the experiments I wished to do. I agreed and left.
Later, David dined with a friend of yet another old postdoc colleague of mine. That friend encouraged him to take me more seriously, and the next day he looked me up and offered to collaborate more closely, as he understood our skills were complementary.
David and I continued to collaborate until he recently retired from his position at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In addition to research, we co-edited a book on ion channels and initiated a Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology conference devoted to ion channels.
David has been the most wonderful and generous collaborator and mentor over all these years. The thing I enjoyed most was that he would call out of the blue with outrageous ideas — he made me laugh like crazy and think hard outside the box. Some of those ideas turned out to be real. It was always fun and intellectually stimulating to do science with David.
Incidentally, as often occurs in science, the enzyme we both thought we were chasing was not correct — it turned out to be a new phosphatase family member, which made our journey that much more fun and exciting.
Like Experimental Biology meetings, Society for Neuroscience meetings are huge, and you never know what connections you can make. I have my good friends from my postdoc years to thank for this long-lived collaboration, and I try my best to pay it forward to young scientists in my own sphere of influence.
The lesson of this story is that science never happens in a vacuum — go out and tell your science story, make friends and have fun doing science together. It’s vastly more enriching that way.
Have you made a friendship or connection, forged a collaboration, gleaned insight or had another meaningful experience at a scientific meeting?
To celebrate the return of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting as an in-person event, ASBMB Today held an essay contest based on this question. This is one of the winning entries.
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This is an edited excerpt from “Life and Research: A Survival Guide for Early-Career Biomedical Scientists,” a book that started as a tweet, according to its authors.