People in the ASBMB have changed my life

Paul Craig
April 20, 2023

I planned to bring several of my students at the Rochester Institute of Technology to present in the undergraduate poster competition at the 2013 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting. That plan was interrupted by the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15.

The meeting was being held in Boston days later, and by the Friday it was scheduled to open, I had all but decided not to go. Around 10 p.m. that night, we heard that the last perpetrator had been captured.

“I think we can make the meeting,” I told my wife, “but I’m not going to try to get there for the poster competition at noon on Saturday.”

Not two minutes later, Greg Dodge, a student in my research group, called and said, “If we leave Rochester at 4:30 a.m., we can make it for the poster competition.”

We parked outside the convention center about 11:45 a.m., and the students presented their work. It was great, and, as always, they learned so much — especially that they belong in our community.

‘We are all your friends’

I started attending ASBMB annual meetings in 1980 as a graduate student — I think we were the American Society for Biological Chemists then — presenting posters of my Ph.D. and postdoctoral work. I took advantage of the job placement service when I completed my Ph.D. and again as I was finishing up my postdoc. I never actually found a job from the search, but the process helped me better understand the kind of job I wanted and the kind of people I wanted to work with.

I’ve repeatedly had encounters in the society, and especially at the annual meetings, that have had a tremendous impact on my life and my career.

The first time I gave a talk at an ASBMB meeting, it was about incorporating molecular visualization in student projects at RIT, where I had just begun teaching. During a break in the session before my talk, I bumped into Rod Boyer. He asked how I was doing, and I told him I was terrified. He said, “Relax, Paul — we are all your friends here.”

I really like to play with tech tools, so for this talk I had created my own PowerPoint presentation template. When I started presenting, the contrast was poor on the screen and almost unreadable. Rowena Matthews, one of my professors from the University of Michigan, ran around the room, working with the audiovisual team to tune the lighting to make my presentation work.

I presented educational software in a poster at the ASBMB meeting for the first time in 1995. I don’t think there was an education section at that time, so they put me in a section on enzyme kinetics. I was not getting much traffic at my poster, but then Judy Voet found me and was so encouraging. She told me not to stop.

When I was invited to serve on the Education and Professional Development Committee, I had a conversation with Marion O’Leary, who was chairing the committee. We talked about educational software development, and he encouraged me to have a bigger vision and to dare to pursue excellence.

My greatest joy

A few years later, I was invited to a biochemistry education meeting in San Francisco that preceded the regular ASBMB meeting. This is where relationships really began to flourish. I was able to room with my dear friend, Bob Bateman, who has always been an encourager and a cheerleader for me.

The education meeting was packed — I think they were expecting 30 people and 300 of us signed up. There were so many posters that they had to run some of the poster sessions at lunch. We had great conversations, and I will never forget Judy Voet coming around to our posters, bringing us apples and granola bars to help keep us going.

I met Phil Ortiz at that education meeting and continue to enjoy our wonderful friendship after more than 25 years. I made many lifelong friends at that meeting and many meetings since (Marilee Benore, Kathleen Cornely, Joe Provost, Don and Judy Voet, to name a few). Now my greatest joy at ASBMB meetings is seeing my friends.

One of my favorite activities at the ASBMB annual meetings is the undergraduate poster competition. It is so exciting to work with other faculty members who are committed to undergraduate research and to meet their students and see the exciting work they are doing. Maybe the best thing for me about the competition is seeing my own students present their work in an arena where I know they will be challenged and nurtured at the same time.

I could tell many other stories, but they all would point in the same direction — the people I have met and worked with at the ASBMB meeting have completely changed my life and my career. They have provided me with inspiration and encouragement. We have shared our joys and our disappointments. It has been a great privilege to pursue teaching and research in a field that I love with people I love.

Other Fellow articles

Susanna Greer: Saying yes to a community of communicators

Nathan Vanderford: Investing in the next generation

Alex Toker: An unpredictable journey

Ralph A. Bradshaw: The ASBMB and me

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Paul Craig

Paul Craig is a professor of biochemistry and head of the School of Chemistry and Materials Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He won the 2018 ASBMB Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education.

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