Essay

Evolving to connect

This essay received an honorable mention in our “Meeting Connections” contest
Marilee Benore
March 31, 2022

Same time, next year?

That’s how I feel at the end of every meeting, after a thoroughly enjoyable experience, immersed in stunning research, joyful camaraderie and good times.

And if you recognize the that “same time” phrase as the title of a 1978 movie, you’re probably old enough to remember when American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meetings were centered more on research and less on making connections, and certainly, they were less diverse in attendees and events.

Back then, research reigned as the chief attraction, plenaries were stimulating, posters were insightful, and impromptu gatherings led to conversations and collaboration. The vendor booths were plentiful with cutting-edge instrumentation. Publishers’ row burst with the latest in communication in the predigital days.

As an attendee, I was exhilarated by the research described by scholars whose work I admired and awed when I was able to meet and converse with esteemed big-name scientists. The biochemical insights I gained were critical to my work. Textbook authors and representatives were helpful and informative.

As a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution, however, I often struggled to feel fully a part of these research-oriented meetings. But all that changed in 1997, when the society hosted its first satellite education meeting where like-minded faculty got to meet, connect and form collaborations not just in teaching but in education research. The ASBMB had evolved to recognize not just research but also the importance of teaching, diversity, ethics, inclusion and policy, noting that the future required a whole new approach in supporting BMB.

As one of my students joyfully exclaimed when he presented as an undergraduate, “I found my people!” 

We began to gather annually, and colleagues initiated more education and inclusion events, student clubs and regional meetings; the ASBMB was supportive and inclusive. As faculty at smaller campuses, often isolated from other biochemists and with a common mission to support, we hungered for connections, insights and collaboration.

Since then, and maybe it’s a little embarrassing to admit it, attending the annual meeting and getting to see my friends and hang out and drink and share stories is a highlight of my year.

This group calms me down when I am frustrated by teaching; we joke and support each other, and they’re there when I need an ear or a helping hand. We zoom, text and host occasional Friday night virtual wine gatherings to share good and bad news.

This group has sustained me. 

At a time in my life when I felt that my work in education was not as valuable as being a hardcore researcher at a big university, this group helped me understand that we’re not going to have a next generation of well-trained biochemists without our good work. And the ASBMB has supported this at our annual and specialty discipline-based education research meetings. 

So this is really my heartfelt note to these amazing friends and colleagues — you know who you are, and you know that you have been an intimate part of my career and personal life. Thank you. Without you, I might have lost heart a long time ago. I certainly would have been more lost, more alone and more isolated. I would not be here without you. I really look forward to seeing you.

So — same time next year?

MEETING CONNECTIONS

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 entry won an honorable mention.

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Marilee Benore

Marilee Benore is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, where she studies vitamin transport, and a member of the ASBMB Women in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Committee.

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