Thursday, November 17, 2016

Finding Your Way through the Smog: Musings of a Graduate Student

When I entered graduate school, one of the things I quickly learned was how different the trajectory of my ‘schooling’ would be than that of my peers in other programs. Sure, I had required courses as a first year Ph.D. student, but beyond that point, life as a Ph.D. candidate takes a much more independent and unpredictable course than that of students in other professional schools. There is no set timeline of when you will graduate, and this can be as daunting as it is freeing. We all have that one family member who makes it a point of asking you “when will you graduate”, and “why can’t you just hurry up and wrap things up one year sooner?” For better or worse, your dedication to seeing your thesis project to completion is one of the key determinants in how your graduate career will play out.  But even the most motivated and passionate student will bear inevitable pitfalls. This is often where the graduate student life turns most bleak. From staring into the black hole of a confocal microscope objective, only to find a constellation of debris and high background looking back at you, to seeing your labmate’s project flourish while yours sinks in a sea of antibody diluent, there are moments where being on this path can be incredibly isolating.  What tends to make it that much more difficult, is the feeling that you are in this on your own.  In a sense it’s what you signed up for – training to be an independent scientist who can troubleshoot a project and carry it through to completion. Graduate school tends to have a “suck it up” attitude, where a lot of times the pressure of producing data in order to move forward can be debilitating.  From seeing classmates burn out from overworking themselves, to others who have found themselves stuck so deep in the impenetrable smog of a frustrating project that they can’t motivate themselves to be productive – graduate school can have a harsh way of teaching its lessons.

But if there’s one aspect of graduate school life that has carried me through so far, its been knowing when to turn to others, not only for help, but for camaraderie at the bench. Knowing that you are not alone, as cliché as it may sound, can be a life raft when it seems like there is no progress to be made. A graduate student’s journey to thesis defense doesn’t happen in isolation, and building a sense of community is an aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. There is an emotional side to science that mostly goes unacknowledged. We are trained to take a rational and objective approach to our work, but when the irrational, subjective and ultimately human side gets in the way of that, the culture of science often doesn’t lend itself to be a very nurturing place. In a field that promotes scientific collaboration, it’s important to realize that communicating your scientific struggles with your peers can be just as instrumental in helping to move forward, as is finally troubleshooting that next protocol.  We come together to forge new ideas and discuss potential projects, but also utilizing our scientific network as a support system to share successes and failures, is its own collaboration that should be encouraged more. From my own experience, implementing an ‘unofficially official’ daily lab coffee break has been pivotal in providing an environment to bounce ideas off each other, get new perspectives on an experiment and just commiserate in the roller-coaster of graduate school life. Other times, it simply just reminds me of how advantageous it is to be spending these formative years of my life in a niche surrounded by intellect and inspiration. The extra dose of caffeine doesn’t hurt either!

As I near the completion of my Ph.D. training, I find myself reflecting on how I have gotten through some of the more trying times of my graduate career.  A piece of advice I was given before I started was to have an outlet of some sort while in graduate school. I have tried to maintain this as best as I can, even when it seems like there is no room for life outside of the lab. It has proven to be a saving grace for getting through some of the more difficult times during graduate school.  From taking up dance classes, or learning a new instrument, or just surrounding yourself with a network of people who are supportive of your endeavors - giving your mind a break from research can often be what you need to recharge, refocus, and honestly, just stay sane. Knowing that the smog is inevitable, but that it won’t be a permanent state of despair if I can take a step outside of my own headspace, is something I try to constantly remind myself. The further along in my scientific career path I proceed, I am sure similar frustrations will present themselves, but the coping strategies I take to tackle the graduate school “cloud” now, will lay the foundation for sanity throughout my journey. 

Sara Nik

PhD Candidate
Department of Developmental & Molecular Biology
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Part one: Women in Science - What is the Situation?

In the past several years, several prominent, successful female scientists have led ISEH, but that was not always the case. In the 45 years since its incorporation, ISEH has had 5 female presidents, all serving since 2003. This change reflects the slow, positive shift in society that has been at play for over a century. For many, your grandmother (or mother or great grandmother, depending on your generation) may have wished to have a career but instead was expected (and became) a housewife for her entire life. Her daughter (your sister, mother or grandmother) had a career (usually an “acceptable” female-oriented career, such as a nurse or a teacher) but was likely forced to resign when she had children. She may have had the option of returning to her career when the children were older but was denied the opportunity to take on a leadership position. Very few women became scientists; in fact, even in the mid 1900s if a woman enrolled in a science degree it was considered to be newsworthy. Those who did become scientists very rarely became a lab head, and even fewer were promoted to a professorial position.

Times are changing, but change is slow to trickle up. In many countries, females currently account for over 50% of the undergraduate students in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) degrees. However, for over 20 years the proportions of female professors in the biomedical sciences have remained at less than 20%, and, in some countries, the statistics are even lower.
Why is this the case? Are women happily leaving research to pursue another career or decide to become a stay-at-home Mom when they have a family? Studies suggest the causes of the discrepancy of women starting in STEMM careers and those in leadership positions are complex and multifaceted, making it harder to remedy. For many female scientists, they leave as they feel they have no other option due to lack of appropriate support, irrespective of whether or not they have a family.

In this series of blogs, we will address some of the key issues facing women in science. We encourage everyone to read these blogs as these issues affect us all.  If you are a male, you will be affected either by loss of highly talented female staff from your lab now, or in the future, or by witnessing what happens to your friend or partner throughout their career. If you are a female and think that your career is going to be smooth and successful and that none of this will apply to you, good luck- you will need it!

We hope that this series will benefit many and contribute towards improving the situation for women in science by starting a conversation exploring why there is still a problem retaining and promoting talented female scientists. Importantly, it is time to make a stand and prevent this from continuing to happen in the future. We are seeking your participation and feedback throughout this series, and encourage you all to be proactive in helping to retain more women in research.

What is the situation for female researchers in your country?
While the numbers of women undertaking undergraduate and postgraduate research in STEMM fields have increased significantly in the last 20 years, there is still a significant lack of retention of female researchers beyond the postdoctoral or Assistant Professor stage. The fate of these women in research is affected by a number of factors. Despite this rise of females in STEMM fields, many old school tenets remain. Women are often viewed as less capable, at times by both their male and female peers and sometimes plagued by their own lack of confidence. We cannot prevent these negative attitudes from happening, but we can reduce the extent at which it happens, with the hope that in the future women will be viewed and treated as equally as men in research.

Gender equality issues adversely impact the workplace and productivity. In order to facilitate change there needs to be a pro-active approach by both males and females across all employment levels. Gender equality is not just about issues relating to having a family, although this definitely has a significant impact on the career development of the female researcher. When considering gender equality it is important to recognize that the loss of women in science results in a significant loss of expertise, talent and most importantly, investment in their training. Systems must be introduced to ensure retention of our best scientists, and this can only happen if we address the current gender imbalance that occurs in the STEMM fields.

Be aware of the situation female STEMM researchers face in your own country- this is incredibly important and if you are a female, the earlier in your career that you are aware the better. Many countries have published statistics relating to the proportions of females in STEMM research spanning those pursuing undergraduate degrees all the way through to Professor positions. If this is lacking in your country you only need to look at the attendance at national conferences, or even in your own workplace, to estimate how many females vs. males are in your field. Pay attention to the proportions of junior vs. senior females and males- this will also indicate the chances of a female gaining a senior research position in your country.

Talk to senior female researchers and ask them about their journey in research- has it been smooth, difficult, what did they do that helped them stay and be successful in research? In a future part of this series we will be asking some of our prominent senior female researchers, Professor Connie Eaves and Professor Thalia Papayannopoulou about their journeys, and we encourage you to submit questions to us to pass on to them to answer.

Equally important, learn from the experiences of others who chose to leave a research career. While everyone has their own unique experience, there will be some common reasons that ultimately resulted in their decision. These factors are likely to be major obstacles that many female researchers will face, and awareness of these will help current female researchers to try and minimize the impact of these on their own research career.  

Have a plan for your career
Based on what you have learned, and regardless of whether you are a female or male, have a plan for your future so that your path is smoother than that of others. Recognize what you want to achieve and be realistic about your goals. Having a mentor (or mentors) who has experienced a similar career path to what you envision is highly recommended, and will be key in helping you to succeed in research.

Have long-term and short-term plans- these will likely be revised constantly, but will set the scene for your career development. Be aware of the boxes you need to tick in order to achieve your career goals. For example, if you are aiming to apply for a fellowship, plan well ahead and identify what criteria are needed to be fulfilled in order to obtain the fellowship so that you can satisfy those essentials and be as competitive as possible. If you are planning to have a family, be prepared as much as possible in advance because your career will be disrupted, and your publications and ability to accept invitations to present at conferences, etc., can be significantly reduced for a long period of time.

To assist in forming career plans, our next session will discuss the qualities of a successful woman in science. In future sessions we will have the opportunity to learn from Connie and Thalia, in addition to hearing about experiences from some other women whose partners are also researchers in similar fields. We will have a session devoted to balancing your career with life. Finally, we will finish with suggestions on how to be proactive and improve the situation for women in research. We hope you enjoy this series and look forward to your participation.

Teresa V. Bowman, PhD
Publications Committee Member
Former Chair, New Investigators Committee

Assistant Professor, Department of Developmental & Molecular Biology
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Oncology)
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, NY

Louise E. Purton, PhD

Associate Director, St. Vincent's Institute of Medical Research
Co-Head, Stem Cell Regulation Unit 
Associate Professor, Dept. of Medicine SVH, The University of Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Collaborations: A Projection to the Very Near Future

Scientists all know how important it is to collaborate. We can see it among the groups around us and we engage in it ourselves. We go to conferences and meet interesting people that can help us evolve our projects with innovative ideas or technological advances. We often seek collaboration when the projects have already advanced and we know what we have to gain or lose. But maybe this is not enough? How can we become even better at collaboration?

I think this is a really important issue that we should contemplate. First, research in life sciences has become more specialized and complicated. We have become increasingly aware that a single line of expertise is not enough. To publish a good paper, you need to provide ample data and cover a wide range of high-level techniques. We all know that it takes a great deal of effort and resources to become an expert in “everything”. This problem affects smaller labs and junior group leaders, in particular, who do not have the resources to adapt every technique to the needs of their lab. Also, now, more than ever, biologists integrate physics, chemistry and mathematics to try to explain the complexity of life, thus expertise beyond the field of life sciences is also needed. Last but not least, collaboration brings innovation. The truth is that every question can have different answers depending on the point of view of the person asking the question and looking at the data. To fully tear apart a question, we need more than perspective. We should seek collaborators with brains that are wired differently from our own and can take a fresh look at scientific data; brains that are open-minded, full of curiosity and possess a love for science. In the end, given these benefits, how long should we really wait till we join forces and perform science at a bigger scale? Beneficial collaborations are not only achievable for the powerful and well connected, they are possible, at least to some extent, for all of us. That is why we have to become better at collaborating.

What is the secret of success?
Choose participants carefully. Collaborations stem from common interests, but some people are incompatible when it comes to working in a team. People should be willing to collaborate and work as a team. It also works best if participants are diverse enough to bring their own value to the collaborative project.

Forget leaders, members should be equal. One danger of collaborations is the development of negative feelings, like frustration or impatience. Somebody contributes more and somebody else less. Somebody takes over the conversation and formulates all decisions. This team will not hold for long, unless all members give up control and wait for their turn to shine.

Share your honest opinions. The participants should feel free to discuss their ideas and problems, but they should equally accept the fact that the team might disregard some of their ideas. So, don’t be discouraged, just share your frank opinion with the team, be open to giving and accepting criticism. In some cases, many approaches can be explored.

Foster trust. Sometimes it is hard to collaborate because science is a very competitive field. However, a good collaboration should be built on trust. The members should not be afraid that they will lose their data or not get enough credit. It is difficult to really ensure that all members will behave ethically, but consistent meetings and equal distribution of workload should ensure that all members contribute and are equally valued.

Energize, motivate and listen. Be open about ideas, but also encourage people to share their ideas and visions about the collaborative project. Listen to them carefully before you form an opinion.

Encourage diversity and set limits. As mentioned before, you need to look at problems from different angles. Just collaborate with people who share different expertise and approach problems in diverse ways. However, always keep in mind that collaboration does not mean that you can easily step into each other’s field. Respect the expertise of other members and value their opinion.

Establish communication and learn how to manage virtual teams. Nowadays, collaborations
take place with people who are physically all over the globe. Set up regular meetings and use some of the virtual tools available to make communication livelier. Since it is not so easy to communicate online, try to have a routine that all participants will get used to. There are also wonderful books written about managing teams. Just read a couple!

Develop a shared vision. Given how difficult it is to build a really good collaboration, it is important to make sure a well-established collaboration lasts. Once you bring a team together, try to have broad conversations that will go deep into the scientific question. It should not only be about technicalities, collaborators should be willing to have long term goals beyond an initial publication.

Manage conflict. If there is a conflict among the members of the team, this should be solved as soon as possible before it poisons the relationship. Read about conflict management, it will always be a useful tool.

Give credit. Small successes are equally important as bigger ones. Don’t wait till the end to celebrate! Reward your people and acknowledge credit where credit is due.

Be accountable. Feel responsible and try to deliver, as promised, for the benefit of the end result.

These are some of the many suggestions you can find regarding fruitful collaborations. The point is that we need to be in a collaborative mind-frame. Collaboration should not be considered only when the need arises. Collaboration must be a strategic decision of every lab that will ensure long-term success and competitiveness in a diverse and constantly changing field.

Eirini Trompouki
ISEH Publications Committee Member
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics
Stübeweg 51, 79108
Freiburg, Germany

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM): Lessons from Biotech

“Don't think you are the smartest person in the room, to be a successful company you never should be.”—Mathew Sowa

Regardless of where you are working, good science is driven by active curiosity and asking good questions. The differences come in how you approach answering those questions. Continuing our ongoing discussion about biotech careers, this blog will describe some key differences between academia and biotech along with some advice on how to utilize what you learn during your academic training to succeed in biotech. A huge thanks to Michelle Lin (Research Scientist at CRISPR Therapeutics, ~1 year in biotech), Mathew Sowa (Director at C4 Therapeutics, 5+ years in biotech), and Hariharan Jayaram (Associate Director at Editas Medicine, Inc., 6+ years in biotech) for sharing their experiences and advice!

When asked about the biggest difference in day-to-day life in biotech vs. academia, all of our biotech colleagues agreed that team meetings now make up a much larger fraction of their time. This fact is especially true as you move up the corporate ladder; bench time quickly shifts towards more meetings focused on both scientific and strategic planning. Dr. Lin commented, “Some days I have as many as 10 meetings!”
The many meetings have much to do with the teamwork required for a biotech to succeed. Dr. Jayaram commented, “The biggest differences between biotech and academia are team work, the demands on rigor, reproducibility, and the end goal. Here is an example to illustrate how teamwork works and why it is so important in biotech. If you are characterizing a protein, many people might be involved and the group could have one or even two project leaders. One person may design the clones and express and purify the protein, another person may design and carry out the biochemical assays, and a third person may perform all the cell biological characterizations required to understand its behavior in cells.” In academia, all of these aspects might be a part of a single postdoc's project. Dr. Lin noted, “As a postdoc, you have to be a master of your project, controlling every aspect and learning every technique required for your project.  In industry, we work as a team and thus you're never alone if you're struggling with any aspect of your project. You utilize everyone's expertise to help drive the project forward.” Dr. Sowa agrees stating, “Academics, though often times collaborative, is still mainly an individual's effort, rarely including more than one or two additional people assisting with a project in an ongoing and meaningful way (though author lists can still be large due to lots of smaller contributions). If a biotech company is to succeed, all people involved have to work with each other and as importantly, work effectively together. If the project/program fails, typically so does the company and all of the people in it, regardless of how well each individual has done his/her work. In academics, if a project fails, the lab does not disintegrate as there are always multiple projects running (especially in larger labs).”
Teamwork is also important to increase rigor and reproducibility. Dr. Jayaram points out that “The increased scale and multi-team execution of a project allows for a more rigorous characterization. Teams are well suited to explore and analyze results from many angles to make sure all data is well characterized--no matter how routine or un-"sexy" the question.  This is particularly important when the end goal is to proceed towards clinical validation." 
In addition to team meetings on science, meetings discussing strategic plans and timelines are critical at a biotech. Strategizing where to put limited resources to ensure the biggest return is key to success. Unlike academia where we often let the science naturally unfold and follow interesting offshoots, which could take years, biotech is a moneymaking venture where time is the most precious commodity. Projects must stay focused to succeed, as the ultimate end product is a therapeutic. Dr. Sowa commented, “in biotech, there is a genuine sense of larger purpose - that is, the work being done is leading to something "real" (the drug) that will change people's lives for the better. It does not matter how many or in what journals papers are published, the only thing that really matters is that there is a new drug produced that will treat a human ailment/disease. I think it is that tangible goal, the physical drug, that truly differentiates academic science from biotech and keeping that goal in mind is where the initial similar "basic science" paths diverge.” 
Despite the many differences between academia and biotech, the basic principles of science and success remain true. Many skills you acquire as a Ph.D. student and postdoc prepare you for a job in biotech. Dr. Jayaram advises, “cultivating curiosity and thirst for problem solving coupled with seeing the bigger picture and focusing lines of inquiry are invaluable skills for success learned during PhD and postdoctoral training.” Dr. Lin pointed out that “people have the misconception that industry jobs are very constant, a 9-5 schedule, doing the same things over and over again, etc. While it may be true in some instances, the career path is also what you make of it.  If you choose to be a 9-5 person, you will be treated as a 9-5 person.  You can either choose to treat it as a job or as a career. You can work as hard as postdocs, sometimes even harder if you choose to and bring more value to the company.  Any career, whether it's in academia or industry really is what you make of it.”
Whether in industry or academics, it sounds like teamwork is a fun and effective way to do science!
Last bit of advice: Be humble and surround yourself with brilliant colleagues!
** The opinions in this piece do not reflect the opinions of CRISPR Therapeutics, C4 Therapeutics, or Editas Medicine, Inc..

Teresa V. Bowman, PhD
Publications Committee Member
Former Chair, New Investigators Committee

Assistant Professor, Department of Developmental & Molecular Biology
Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Oncology)
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, NY

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Non-scientific ways to approach the “reproducibility crisis”

Reproducibility is in crisis; or at least that is how 90% of more than 1500 researchers responded to a Nature survey conducted a few months ago (1). The statistics out of the survey are shocking. 70% of researchers have failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments. The Nature editorial and the following special articles about reproducibility have brought back an old concern - can we trust scientific publications? The same concern was discussed in a workshop two years ago, held jointly by the NIH, Nature Publishing Group, and Science (2). Although the workshop triggered novel guidelines in grants and publications, the results from the Nature survey reveals that there is still “space for improvement.”

Last year, Science, published an article about reproducibility in psychological sciences (3). The “Reproducibility Project” recruited hundreds of scientists to perform 100 replication studies, and the results were shocking - fewer than half were repeated successfully. This raises more concerns, if two studies reach different conclusions, how can you tell which one is right? As an exacerbating factor, just imagine that one of the studies was performed by a big and well-recognized lab, and the other was performed by a smaller group; further, consider the potential outcome if that smaller lab is trying to publish it after the more well-known group- they are likely to face an uphill battle or end up publishing in a more obscure journal.

Reproducibility is essential to building scientific knowledge. My former mentor, Dr. Mayani (Oncology Research Unit, IMSS, Mexico City) always uses the phrase “on the shoulder of titans” (referring to the story of the Gemini, a NASA project before Apollo) as an analogy for how any new discovery is supported by an old one (the same analogy was also used by Iorns and Chong in reference 4). So every paper that can’t be reproduced affects other papers, causing a so called “domino effect.”

The scientific community is addressing the reproducibility crisis in many ways. PLOS One, launched in 2012, has a Reproducibility Initiative (5), which aims to provide a platform to publish validations studies. In 2013, Nature announced (6) new initiatives, most of which were focused on eliminating the length restrictions on the methods sections, encouraging authors to publish supporting data and share detailed methods. The NIH has revised grant applications and published a webpage focused on reproducibly (7), encouraging rigorous statistical analysis, data sharing, transparency in reporting, and sharing best practice guidelines. However, these new policies are not enough to encourage authors to publish validation studies, if they are not supported by grants. Fortunately, new grants are emerging that will focus on the specific objective of validating previous reports. For example, this year the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), launched a fund dedicated to replication studies with over $3.3 million USD for 3 years, but similar mechanisms are needed elsewhere if we have a serious commitment to addressing the issue.

Are the initiatives from the journals and funding agencies going to be enough to overcome the reproducibility crisis? In my opinion, they will reduce it, but they will not eliminate the problem. I think that there is a risk that most of the initiatives will target only novel discoveries or new technology. If we consider the possibility that most of what is published can’t be replicated in full, it will likely be impossible to secure sufficient funds to repeat even a small fraction of the current body of research. This is especially challenging given that we are dealing with a related “grant crisis”, limiting the number of studies funded due to worldwide budget cuts to research. 

I think the reproducibility crisis requires us all to re-think how we perform and publish science. As a brainstorming exercise, which will hopefully inspire others to think about this topic beyond reading this post, I have found inspiration toward ways to improve our scientific practice from outside of the field and shared them below.

From cocktails to the bench

Before attending our annual meeting in Kyoto last year, I had the opportunity to visit Tokyo. I was amazed by the city, but mostly by their people. One who stands out was Hidetsugo Ueno, a mixologist and owner of the High Five bar. He is well-known because he has no menu at the bar, and he customizes each drink to each client. But this is not the reason I was inspired by Ueno. He is also famous for his ice diamond carving technique. I have read about him, but I have to say that watching him preparing a drink was outstanding. Every step was performed with perfection - the way he pours the drink, shakes it, and places the ice into the glass. Every detail was considered - the quality of their products and the level of attention he puts into every step, repeated carefully over and over. You could see how proud he is of what he is doing and that he is driven by his passion. He made me think of a “simple” drink as a piece of art. And he was not the only one “mixing” at the bar; the same experience could be derived from any of his personnel, which is likely the result of his good training. The lesson from Ueno about reproducibility was to pay attention to the quality of all aspects of your activity, from the “reagents” to the execution of the “methods” and most importantly the training all your personnel, so that you get the same reliable and high quality results from any of your team members.

Medals come from good execution of the fundamentals as much as novelty

I was unexpectedly inspired by gymnastics as I watched the recent Olympic games with my sister, who is a former gymnast. She explained to me that while every routine is made up of “free” exercises, which are new and chosen by the gymnast,  each also has obligatory exercises, a set of movements that must be integrated to ensure a good score. So I thought about having “obligatory experiments” for each paper, a solid foundation which consists of the repetition of former experiments (to validate them and encourage reproducibility) together with the novel assays (the “free exercises”). Given our focus on “new” ideas, I think might be better to try to establish a precedence to include a proportion of replication experiments on each paper, instead of having a 100% validation paper. Perhaps we can offer to include (and tolerate as a reviewer) a fair percentage (like 10-20%) of repetition of key experiments and or validation of reagents that support our current observations as a “requirement” for any publication. This would extend and better illustrate the general principles of the approach then is currently included in most “methods” sections, providing enough information so the reader does not have to look up all the prior data and/or methods to understand (or believe) the experiments shown. Obviously, this would require a commitment not only at the level of the researcher and manuscript reviewer, but the editors, funding sources and even, when applicable, animal oversight committees. Whether it is a total validation study or a 10-20% validation paper, I believe it is essential that any validation attempt and results are published as part of the full report of each new scientific publication.  Related, together with most of my colleagues, I think we need to discourage the use of blogs or social media to publish validation results, which can discredit our colleagues and  lack scientific rigor, including peer review and a clear mechanism for response from the original authors.

The Devil’s advocate and science’s “worst sin”

I think I can use an Al Pacino quotation for any example in life or science, but for this blog I like his quote on his role on the movie: “Vanity, My Favorite Sin”. Scientists are under a lot of pressure not just to publish, but to publish novel findings. There is a time limit for grants, graduate theses, postdoctoral stays, which can contribute to the growing phenomenon of “rushing science”. Related, publishing what is perceived as a truly novel story often leads to recognition by ones peers, including further speaking opportunities, additional funding and even extra institutional support. As scientists, and especially for new investigators, we need to build our careers with firm steps, with studies that can be not only validated, but that are solid foundational knowledge “stones”. We must fight back the seduction of publishing a preliminary, but novel finding, and the fear of someone else publishing it first. We should avoid sending out a manuscript before is truly ready, with similar results derived from a variety of assays and with all the appropriate controls and alternative explanations considered. A solid story will presumably have a longer life then a quick flash, later proven to be not quite right.

The reproducibility crisis is dangerous. It can send the wrong message to the public, with both bad and good science losing credibility, but most importantly:  this crisis is dangerous to scientists. We count on each one of us to build our knowledge further. In science we are never alone, even if we have never met the author of a paper, we owe him/her for the previous contribution and for being the “giant” from which we based our hypothesis. Scientists have a very important job that we have to perform with excellence and passion. Science has no space for mediocrity. Findings should be judged by the rigor and quality of the experiments behind them, and not only on novelty. Scientists are always pushed to find novel and useful knowledge, which may or may not be equal to hard work and excellence. To me, the current model in science is analogous to paying a traffic policeman by the number (or amount) of tickets written, and not because he/she performs their job with ethics and quality. This crisis will end when employers, funding bodies, and publishing houses recognize scientists for the way they conduct science, including long-term impact and use by others as a foundation for new discovery, not for the short-term surprise of their findings.


I want to thank Trista E. North (BIDMC Harvard Medical School) from the ISEH Publications Committee for all her help editing this blog post.  I would also like to thank my former mentor, Dr. Hector Mayani, for all the lessons I have learned from him.

  1. Baker Monya. Is there a reproducibility crisis?. Nature. 2016;533:452-454.
  2. Open Science Collaboration. Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science.205:349(6251).
  3. Iorns E and Chong C. New forms of checks and balances are needed to improve research integrity. F1000Res. 2014 May 28;3:119. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.3714.1. eCollection 2014.
  4. Announcement: Reducing our irreproducibility. Nature. 2013;496(7446):398 10.1038/496398a
Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member
Oncological Research Unit at the
Mexican Institute of Social Health (IMSS)
Mexico City, Mexico

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Interview with Current President David Traver about the Upcoming 45th Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society for Experimental Hematology (ISEH)

In advance of the upcoming 45th Annual ISEH Scientific Meeting, we spoke with current ISEH president David Traver, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California San Diego, about the highlights of the upcoming meeting in his current hometown and his thoughts on the society.

What is the focus of this year’s ISEH meeting?
We have tried to maintain the excellent breadth in all major areas of hematopoiesis research, with cutting edge talks across each discipline.  For example, we have a superb lineup of speakers in our Gene and Cell Therapy session, as well as a variety of thought leaders in our Leukemia and Developmental Hematopoiesis sessions.  As always, we have also worked to highlight our best young scientists at the meeting.
Are there any new formats/features that are not to be missed?
Yes, speaking of our trainees, we have started a new Pre-meeting Workshop this year for 50 of our young scientists.  It will feature posters and several short talks by students and fellows.  This format will encourage informal interactions among our trainees and mentoring by several noted scientists in the field, including Jim Palis, Nancy Speck, Anna Bigas, Dan Kaufman, Marella de Bruijn, Mick Milsom, Sofie Singbrant, and Merv Yoder. 
Are there any particular speakers that you are excited are participating this year?
Well, as president it has been particularly fun to invite three of my favorite scientists to speak in the Presidential Symposium – Nancy Speck, Leonard Zon, and Gordon Keller.  This will really be a special treat to feature them together at our meeting in August.
What makes ISEH special?
ISEH has always been my favorite meeting as it is large enough to attract the top speakers in the field but small enough to feel like family.  There remains a core group that nearly always attends, making sustained interactions possible over the years.  In addition, it is the best meeting that I attend in regard to fostering meaningful interactions between our young scientists and the leaders in the field.  I think this is due to both informal scientific discussions over posters / trainee sessions and “Meet the Expert” style social sessions over drinks. 
How long have you been involved with the society?
My first real talk came at an ISEH meeting when I was a graduate student in Irv Weisman’s lab.  I remember being terrified to present in front of what seemed a huge and intimidating audience.  But the talk went well and served to introduce me to many of the fantastic scientists in our field that I continue to interact with today.
Is there an advantage to joining a society as a student or postdoc, rather than wait until it’s clear you will remain in the field?
I think so.  Aside from the obvious financial incentives, being part of the ISEH provides a real sense of community.  I recall being impressed at how easy it was to approach many of the brand-name scientists in the field when attending my first few ISEH meetings.  Their encouragement helped me want to stay and succeed in science, and within the hematopoiesis field in particular. 
Do you have any dream goals for the meeting or the society in years to come?
I hope that we can continue to improve the impact of our journal, Experimental Hematology.  It is the key to keeping our society and meeting going strong.  Most of our funding comes from the journal, so improving the quality of manuscripts submitted is more important than most realize.  We have seen a large increase in submissions over the past year, with similarly large increases in downloads from the website.  If we can keep this up, the impact factor (IF) should improve over the next few years.  With the journal publishing only a moderate number of papers per month, it actually doesn’t take a huge increase in citations to move the IF up in a significant manner.  If we can accomplish this, more will submit their work, with further increases in the IF to create a positive feedback loop.  This is key to maintaining a strong society and to continue our great meetings for years to come. 

We hope to see you at the upcoming ISEH meeting! To learn more about the meeting in San Diego this August 25-28, visit the ISEH website.

David Traver, PhD
Current ISEH President
Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Professor of Biology, Section of Cell and Developmental Biology
UC San Diego School of Medicine
La Jolla, CA USA
Trista E. North, PhD
Chair, ISEH Publications Committee
ISEH Board of Directors
Associate Professor of Pathology
Harvard Medical School
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Boston, MA USA





Thursday, July 28, 2016

Transition from academia to industry: An interview with Elizabeth Paik

We have all read many articles about the possible career choices of a scientist. The usual dilemma is between industry and academia. We have talked about this in previous blogs but the more information we get the easier it is to make a wise choice. Of course we all have opinions about the pros and cons of such a choice but what I always find best is to ask people who have experienced both. That is why I turned to an old colleague and friend, Elizabeth Paik, and asked her some questions regarding her experiences in both academia and industry.

Can you describe to us your scientific career?
I started my career at Harvard Medical School, as a graduate student in Dr. Len Zon's laboratory. My thesis work focused on understanding a role of CDX transcription factors during embryonic hematopoiesis. Through ChIP-seq, knockdown and overexpression studies in zebrafish, I showed CDX transcription factors control expression of hematopoietic transcription factors - SCL and LMO2.

Towards the end of my PhD, ES and iPS field was blooming, and I got fascinated by how stem cells can be used to study human diseases. At the same time, I wanted to pursue translational research, having focused on basic biology during my PhD. I joined Dr. Lee Rubin's group at Harvard Stem and Regenerative Biology department. While in his lab, I used human iPS-derived dopaminergic neurons to study Parkinson’s disease. I also co-developed a purification method for midbrain dopaminergic progenitors to establish cell-based therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

After finishing my third year as a postdoc, I started my first job in industry as a scientist at CRISPR Therapeutics. I have been at CRISPR for nine months now, and it has been a very exciting and fulfilling experience.

Why did you choose to continue your career in industry?
I joined industry to pursue my interest in translational research. When I was a graduate student, colleagues in the Zon lab had discovered prostaglandin E2’s role in enhancing HSC self-renewal. Following the initial discovery, my adviser founded a biotech company focusing on translating this discovery into therapy. That was the first time when I saw how findings from an academic laboratory can be translated into therapies, and how industrial research can enable this transition. I thought being part of this later process would be very fulfilling.

I also liked the aspect of teamwork in industry. During my postdoc, I was working on a pharmaceutical company-funded project. The project was a highly collaborative one, where myself and two other postdocs worked towards establishing a stem cell therapy for Parkinson's disease. It was really exciting to work closely with them, and knowing that teamwork is a key in industry, I thought it would be a great fit for me. 

Do you use the knowledge that you received during your academic career for your industry career?
Being a research scientist, my daily job includes bench work, and designing experiments. I use skill sets that I acquired during my academic career every day. Back in graduate school, I had to custom-build many molecular biology tools because zebrafish had fewer ready-to-go reagents compared to other mammalian model organisms. Now that I am in a brand-new CRISPR field, I cannot rely on ready-made tools and even if there were tools out there, I have to run stringent quality checks on them. Therefore, my molecular biology skill sets earned during PhD years are extremely handy. 

Do you think it is easy to transition from academia to industry?
I think getting the first job in industry can be quite challenging. A lot of it depends on whether you are a good fit to the job requirements and the company culture. Because the job search can take a long time, it is important to stay positive through the process.

Do you feel you advance your scientific knowledge in industry?
Yes. Being in a small company, I need to be flexible and open to expand my knowledge of experimental tools and be creative regarding new ideas. For example, I learned a lot about the genome editing field since joining CRISPR Tx. 

What is the difference between research in academia and industry?
In industry, projects are goal-oriented, and have deadlines. You are expected to plan and execute in a timely manner so that you can achieve the milestones. You should be able to prioritize and efficiently use your resources to meet these expectations.

What would you advise someone who is lingering between an academic career and a career in industry?
I would actively reach out to people who already have a job in an industry and find out what it is like to work there. When I reached out to people, many candidly shared their experience, and I found it very helpful.  

Hopefully Elizabeth’s experience will be handy to many people looking for alternative careers out there. The key message is that transitioning to another job never wastes your prior knowledge. However, it takes time to find the right fit so you have to be patient, optimistic and take advice from the right people

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the CRISPR Tx.

Elizabeth Paik, PhD
Scientist at CRISPR Tx
Cambridge, MA USA

Eirini Trompouki, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member

Group Leader
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics
Freiburg, Germany