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Making Connections in Cell Biology: Recap of 2015 ASCB Annual Meeting and Interview of Theodore Ho

From December 12 – 16 veteran scientists and early career researchers (ECRs) alike flocked to the San Diego Convention Center to attend the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Annual Meeting, a premier international gathering in the field of cell biology. The conference featured more than 100 scientific sessions and 2,500 poster presentations that covered a variety of topics within the discipline, including (but not limited to): Cellular and Molecular Mechanobiology, Cytoskeletal and Membrane Protein Dynamics, and Quantitative Microscopy and Image Analysis. The ASCB Annual Meeting attracted many prominent cell biologists from around the world, guaranteeing a thorough exchange of exciting new ideas.

PLOS was at ASCB 2015 (in Booth 1244), where we hosted meet-and-greets with some of our leaders, including Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Marincola. One of the highlights of the conference was a science writing discussion for cell biologists at the beginning of their careers. Hosted in partnership with the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee, PLOS offered support and guidelines for effective science writing to help early career scientists publish their research. If you attended the Career Options in Scientific Writing and Editing Discussion and Mentoring Roundtables and are interested in practicing your science writing skills with the PLOS Student Blog, or the PLOS Synbio and PLOS Neuroscience communities, please contact Student Blog Coordinator Sara Kassabian at skassabian@plos.org.

Scope and Impact

In recent years, some of the most hotly debated scientific topics have stemmed from the discipline of cell biology. From DNA sequencing and synthesis to genetic engineering to gene therapy and genome editing to stem cell research, the field of cell biology is becoming increasingly relevant to everyday life. In fact, specialized researchers in neuroscience, immunology, cancer biology, synthetic biology, biophysics and molecular medicine are now employing principles of genomics, gene expression, protein structures and imaging to better illuminate gaps in their own disciplines. Consequently, the theme of this year’s ASCB Annual Meeting was about making connections at different scales, from the micro to the macro, and across different areas of scientific research. Some of the organizers of the 2015 conference encouraged attendees to explore the field of cell biology in the context of big data and information integration. This novel approach will better allow researchers to ask questions relevant to the technologically-advanced world of today and find answers to challenging dilemmas in medicine, living systems and ecosystems.

Keynote Speakers

The 2015 ASCB Annual Meeting featured keynote addresses from leaders in cell biology Drs. Jane Lubchenco and Sallie Watson Chisholm. A summary of each doctor’s professional expertise and experience is included below.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. Image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Dr. Jane Lubchenco Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. Image Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

As Under Secretary of Commerce and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco focuses on restoring fisheries, oceans and coasts to a healthy and sustainable state. She completed her B.A. in Biology from Colorado College, her M.S. in Zoology from the University of Washington and her Ph.D. in Ecology from Harvard University. She worked as a Professor at Harvard University from 1975 – 1977 and at Oregon State University from 1977 – 2009.

Dr. Lubchenco is recognized as one of the “most highly cited” ecologists in the world and has had eight of her publications recognized as “Science Citation Classics.” She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Society, and the Academies of Science for the Developing World for Europe and Chile. Moreover, Dr. Lubchenco has received countless awards for her work, including a MacArthur “Genius” Award, and has earned 18 honorary degrees.

Dr. Lubchenco has co-founded three organizations (The Leopold Leadership Program, the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea, and Climate Central) that aim to communication scientific information to the public, policy makers, media and industry.

Dr. Sallie Watson Chisholm

Dr. Sallie Watson Chisholm Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Image Courtesy of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Chisholm Lab
Dr. Sallie Watson Chisholm
Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Image Courtesy of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Chisholm Lab

Dr. Sallie Watson Chisholm currently serves as Institute Professor in the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her B.A. in Biology/Chemistry from Skidmore College and her Ph.D. in Biology from S.U.N.Y. Albany. In her lab, Dr. Chisholm investigates the impact of the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus on ocean ecosystems.

Dr. Chisholm is a member of the American Society of Microbiology, the International Society of Microbial Ecology, the Ecological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others. Furthermore, she has received numerous honours and awards, including the Ruth Patrick Award, the 2011 National Medal of Science and the Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology.

Featured Interview of Theodore Ho, PhD Candidate

Theodore Ho Ph.D. Candidate at University of California, San Francisco and Co-Chair of Committee for Post-Docs and Students at American Society for Cell Biology. Image Courtesy of American Society for Cell Biology, The Activation Energy Blog
Theodore Ho
Ph.D. Candidate at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Co-Chair of Committee for Post-Docs and Students (COMPASS) at American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB). Image Courtesy of American Society for Cell Biology, The Activation Energy Blog

Theodore Ho is currently a PhD Candidate in Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He is studying autophagy and mechanisms of aging in hematopoietic stem cells under Dr. Emmanuelle Passegue of UCSF’s Department of Medicine. In addition to his research work, Ho serves as Co-Chair of the Committee for Post-Docs and Students (COMPASS) of the American Society for Cell Biology. Here, we feature a short interview with him.

1) What brought you into your research? What makes (or keeps) you interested in the discipline of cell biology?

I started research in high school and have studied a wide range of fields including drug discovery and bioengineering, but now I study the aging of hematopoietic stem cells. I found the field of aging to be the most interesting to me because it affects everyone and is the greatest risk factor for many major diseases, yet relatively little is known about the actual mechanisms of cellular and molecular aging. I think cell biology is simply fundamentally important for biology, with basic mechanistic discoveries providing insight and avenues for future research to improve human health.

2) As a budding scientist, what challenges do you envision for the next generation of cell biologists? Also, how do you think the field of cell biology will evolve in coming years?

This is something we discuss a lot at ASCB and within COMPASS, ASCB’s student and postdoc committee. I think most immediately and individually, the challenge will be finding the jobs we desire, and then alternatively for some, finding and pursuing non-academic careers. There are many great graduate students and postdocs, but not nearly as many faculty positions unfortunately. More generally, I think cell biology is becoming increasingly fractionated in terms of specific fields and subfields. This is positive in some regards with ever-improving technologies allowing greater and greater resolution into biological processes, but can also make the cell biology community less cohesive and the crosstalk between research areas more limited in a sense with people focusing on their specific subfields. So I think the field of “cell biology” is really becoming many fields of different biologies of different cells.

3) What were your top three highlights from last week’s conference?

I think the special interest subgroups are one of the great parts of the Annual Meeting as it allows an organic self-organization of those specific “hot” topics in which attendees are most interested. The poster sessions are always one of my highlights as there are just so many great posters and a good chance to really get into the nitty gritty of people’s research. And I guess the third would be my own presentation on my work!

4) The theme of this year’s ASCB Conference was “Making Connections”. Do you have any advice for early career researchers or emerging cell biologists looking to make connections across disciplines?

Actually this may be a bit counter-intuitive, but I would say my first thought is to focus on your own research and on excelling at the bench. At the end of the day, we are scientists, and we remember good science. So if you give a good presentation or poster, or have a great paper, people you meet and connect with will be more likely to be impressed, to have something to talk about with you, and to remember you. I would also say make sure you know the background of whomever you are trying to connect with, and finally just be outgoing.

5) Do you have any tips for ECRs attending or presenting at a big scientific conference for the first time?

The ASCB meeting can be quite overwhelming as it is a huge conference, especially relative to the smaller ones we often attend these days. Especially in such a huge venue with lots of walking, and lots of overlapping talks and events, I would say the key is to really go through the detailed program at least a few days in advance and plan out your schedule exactly so you know where and when you have to be, and if you have to sacrifice one event for another, you have some time to decide ahead of time.

For presentations, I think first you need to make sure to gear your talk to your audience and the type of talk you are giving. Make sure your background is appropriate and your key points and conclusions are the ones potentially most interesting to the audience. Especially at large meetings with a wide variety of backgrounds, I would say it is better to have more conclusions and summaries, and less detailed data. Finally, make sure you practice your timing so you do not go way over the limit, or otherwise have to rush through things in an unclear way.

References

http://www.ascb.org/2015meeting/

http://www.ascb.org/2015meeting/2015amprogram/

https://www.plos.org/ascb2015/

http://www.noaa.gov/lubchenco.html

https://chisholmlab.mit.edu/members/penny-chisholm

http://www.hhmi.org/scientists/erich-d-jarvis

http://profiles.umassmed.edu/profiles/display/133151

http://www.hhmi.org/scientists/jonathan-s-weissman

http://www.rockefeller.edu/research/faculty/labheads/ElaineFuchs/

http://www.ascb.org/beefing-up-value-for-young-scientists/

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