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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Research: the science of overcoming failure

"Perceived failure can become the catalyst of profound re-invention"
Conan O'Brien

On a cold Spring Sunday morning in western New Hampshire, Conan O’Brien, a Harvard alumnus, stood in front of 1,700 Dartmouth students for a commencement address. After initially teasing them about having an inferiority complex (as part of the Ivy League Colleges) he then said something that was as unexpected as it was wise, “Whether your fear it or not, true disappointment will come, but with disappointment comes clarity, conviction and true originality.”  For those who are not familiar with O’Brien’s work, he is not a scientist, although his speech seemed to be tailor-made for research. He is a very famous comedian that experienced failure shortly after reaching his lifetime goal (O’Brien became the host of the Tonight Show but was fired soon thereafter).

Scientists face disappointment and/or failure on a daily basis; a failed experiment, a rejected paper or grant. However, failure does not naturally lead to clarity, conviction and true originality; you have to make it happen. For young students, failure can sometimes lead to the premature departure from graduate programs, changing careers or even depression. Those who have walked the scientific path long enough have learned that failure is just a step along the path to success and that overcoming failure is an essential part of your training. So as a young scientist, try to embrace your failures and, as Dr. Peter van Galen, suggests, revel in the brief successes to get you through the low points,  “It is pretty rare for an experiment to confirm your hypothesis, so you have to savor the times that it happens. The percentage of experiments that yield 'publication quality' data is probably less than 10%, and it’s these rare events that have to keep you going for months of disappointments."

Dr. Hector Mayani, remembers that as a student and a young investigator, failure was depressing, but after 20+ years as an independent scientist he learned how to manage it. As he stated, “failure still knocks at my door every now and then. I still do not like it, but the difference is that I have learned how to handle it.” We should not fear failure, but change our paradigm about it; for Dr. Sean Morrison, failure is an opportunity, he recognized that “You learn more from the failures than from the successes. Failures aren't fun but the experiences can make you a better scientist.” 

It’s not personal, it’s…. science
 Being positive about facing failure does not mean that failure or rejection will not affect you, but the advice of Dr Fernando Camargo, is to not take it personal, which he admits “it is very difficult." Dr Hal Broxmeyer, agrees that “No one appreciates or likes to receive a rejection, be it a submitted manuscript or grant application. I doubt that there is anyone, regardless of status or position, who at one time or another has not had a rejection letter," he continued, “the key is to move on and to try deal with and learn from the process."

Minimizing our chances for failure
 As a student and young investigator, your first “failure” is at the bench, and no matter what you do, you will eventually have to face failure, but it is also true that you can “minimize” your chances by following the advice of Dr. Toshio Suda who recommends:
  1. Re-read your protocol again and create a checklist before experiments. 
  2. Remember that preservation of samples are always a part of the experiment protocol and label them accurately.
  3. Simulate your experiment like a surgeon before conducting it.
  4. Write a detailed record on your lab notebook; maybe even jotting down the weather or events of that day may help reviewing the record in the future.
After overcoming and conquering your bench work, the next step is to publish it and we asked Dr. Hal Broxmeyer for advice on this matter,  “My advice to young investigators in my lab or who I have mentored is not to send a piece of work out until it is ready to go. If rejected, fix it perhaps with advice and help from others, and send it out again to another journal. I would hope that the new investigators won’t have too many rejections, but rejections are inevitable."

Tips on how to overcome failure
Dr. Margaret Goodell, shared her five tips on how to overcome failure:
  1. Wallow in self-pity for 24 hours if it is an R01, or a whole weekend (not more) if it is a bigger grant. Similar when your papers get rejected.  Keep your chin up and use your humor for your trainees who are feeling even worse.
  2. Don’t take it personally - take the high road and try to forgive your Luddite reviewers (even when you are “certain" you know who they are). Even the most successful investigators have been dragged through the mud on numerous occasions, so take comfort that you are in great company.
  3. Don’t over-analyze the reviews. If you can address the problems and get the grant or paper accepted, then do so. Otherwise, move on, submit elsewhere or write another grant.  Don’t let any single event have too much importance.
  4. Success in science is a marathon, not a sprint. So continuing to move forward in the face of little setbacks will win the game in the end.
  5. Make sure there are other things in your life to make you happy when you are miserable with your science!   
After receiving the notice of a rejected paper, Dr. Hal Broxmeyer’s advice is “to read the critique to see why the paper or grant was rejected, and then put the critique away for a few days and try not to think about it. Once you have “cooled off”, try to re-read the critique with an open mind. Usually, but not always, the critique will contain constructive comments that may help you to revise the paper or grant to make your body of work better. This may take extensive additional thought and experiments and many months of work but it is usually worth the effort. Then, send it out again to another journal or granting agency, unless the journal or agency that rejected it seems to be willing to see a revised work, I know a number of investigators who have fought rejections, but this has not worked well for me."

Don’t fight your data
When you feel that you reach an “ending point” with you data, Dr. John Dick, mentioned in an interview2 that “You have to go forward” and that you should have to be careful about your results and what is “an experiment telling you and what it isn’t." You have to analyze your results and be honest with your findings. Dr. John Dick advises to analyze and think, “This is the result that I found, and this is how I did my assay, and this is what I think I can interpret, and this is what I think I can't."  Peter van Galen adds “Although endurance is very important, it is also crucial to know when to quit. If your project is not going anywhere, don’t hang on to it for too long."

Your scientific career will be built on both failures and successes. As scientists, we overlook failure and even try to avoid it at any cost, when we should actually be trying to learn from it and accept it as “part of the job”. Science is not an easy path to walk, and no matter how much experience you may have, you will continually have to battle failure throughout your career. So you always have to remember why you are doing science, as Dr. John Dick mentioned in an interview2, “You should be doing experiments because you want the answer. You shouldn't be doing it looking over your shoulder that someone might beat you to the answer," sometimes that answer will not lead you to success, or may contradict your hypothesis, “but if an experiment is worth doing, it's worth doing even if there are a number of people also trying to get the answer. If someone else gets there first, it just means that you can go on faster to the next question."

We want to thank all our interviewees that shared their advice for the elaboration of this article (in alphabetical order):
  • Dr. Hal Broxmeyer, Distinguished Professor, Mary Margaret Walther Professor Emeritus, Professor of Microbiology/Immunology, Program Leader, NCI-Designated Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, Program on Hematopoiesis, Heme Malignancies, and Immunology;
  • Dr. Fernando Camargo, Associate Professor at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology;
  • Dr. John Dick, Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology and Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network , Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto Director and Program in Cancer Stem Cells, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR);
  • Dr. Margaret Goodell, Professor and Director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas;
  • Dr. Hector Mayani, Professor and Head of the Oncological Research Unit at the Mexican Institute of Social Health, Mexico City;
  • Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute;
  • Dr. Toshio Suda, Professor, Department of Cell Differentiation, Graduate School of Medicine, Keio University;
  • Dr. Peter van Galen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital

Eugenia (Kena) Flores-Figueroa, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member

Oncological Research Unit at the
Mexican Institute of Social Health (IMSS)
Mexico City, Mexico

Stephen Sykes, PhD
ISEH New Investigators Committee Member

Assistant Professor
Fox Chase Cancer Center - Blood Cell Development and Function Program
Philadelphia, PA

1. Conan O'Brien Video in YouTube:

2. Nature Reports Stem Cells
Published online: 26 March 2009 | doi:10.1038/stemcells.2009.47 




Thursday, July 7, 2016

Science Funding in Developing Countries

I am sure that most, if not all, of you agree with me in that science is one of the most fascinating and exciting activities that we, humans, perform. Indeed, thanks to science we have been able to understand our universe, our world, and ourselves. What we know as science and the scientific method is a relatively recent human activity -“born” about 500 years ago- considering that our species is around 100,000 years old. During the last five centuries, science has moved forward, allowing us to improve our lives in many ways. And during the last six decades, science has been moving so fast, that it is really difficult to cope with all the information that is being generated. Every week, if not every day, we read of advances and achievements in different areas, such as physics, chemistry, biology and medicine. New discoveries are being reported at an incredible speed in hundreds of scientific journals. Today, a new galaxy; tomorrow, a new gene; the day after, a new genetic disorder; and next week, the results of a new clinical trial. It is simply amazing!

Now, I am sure that you all have noticed that the vast majority of the great discoveries that we hear and read about come from research groups from developed countries, and only a few come from groups working in developing countries. Why is that? There are, actually, several reasons, but clearly, one of the most important is funding. The amount of money that developing countries spend in science is, in general, dramatically less than that in their developed counterparts. And this makes a great difference.

In order to illustrate the points I want to make here, let’s take Mexico, my home country, as an example of a developing country, and the United States of America as an example of a developed one. In 2014, the population in the USA (just over 316 million people) was around 2.70 times larger than the one in Mexico (almost 117 million people). In that year, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the USA was almost 14 times higher than the one of Mexico. Out of the total GDP in each of these two nations, the USA spent 2.71% for science and development, whereas Mexico spent only 0.43%; this means that the USA spent close to 90 times more money in scientific research than Mexico.

Let’s now consider the case of cancer research. In 2014, almost 127,000 new cases of cancer were detected in Mexico, whereas just over 1,660,000 cases were detected in the USA; that is a 13-fold difference. In that same year, almost 79,000 people died of cancer in Mexico, and 580,000 people died of cancer in the USA; that is a 7.3-fold difference. Considering these statistics, it would be interesting to know how much money these two countries spent that year for cancer research. Well, according to information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in 2014 the US government spent around 5,200 million US dollars. Unfortunately, there are no official figures for the exact amount of money the Mexican government spent for cancer research, but an estimate –based on the budget of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), the Research Council of the Mexican Institute for Social Security (IMSS), the National Institute of Cancer (INCan) and the National University of Mexico (UNAM) devoted to cancer research- such an amount would be around 350 million Mexican pesos. Considering that 1 US dollar equals 18 Mexican pesos, roughly. This means that for every single US dollar the Mexican government spent for cancer research, the NIH, alone, spent 250 US dollars.

The above figures consider only the money that comes from federal funding. Let’s not forget that in the USA, a great amount of money for medical research comes from the private sector. In Mexico, however, medical research receives very little funding from the private sector, which is even lower than the money coming from the government. Thus, what are the options for a well-established biomedical scientist working on cancer research in Mexico? She/he has to apply for funding through local programs from their own institutions (e.g. IMSS, INCan or UNAM) or from CONACYT, and compete with her/his peers for the small amount of money available. And how much money can she/he get to run her/his project? Well, a standard grant from CONACYT for a two-year project would be around 1.8 million Mexican pesos; that is to say, 100,000 US dollars (50,000 US dollars per year). Numbers and figures for biomedical research funding in other developing countries may be similar.

Considering the limited funding for biomedical research in countries like Mexico, is it possible to perform good-quality research? My answer is a big yes! In my opinion, good quality research is not synonymous with expensive and/or sophisticated research. You can always ask good unanswered questions, you can always design good experimental approaches to respond them, and you can always write good articles. They may not go to the top journals (nowadays, top journals in the biomedical field want innovative manuscripts with mechanistic approaches that may require sophisticated technology), but they will contribute new, relevant information that may bring some light to a particular problem. Of course, a scientist doing research in a developing country can also look for collaborations with colleagues in developed nations. That is always a good option that should be kept in mind. This, indeed, is one of the actions that international scientific societies should promote and favor.

Doing research is not only wonderful, but essential. Science is, in fact, the driving force that has positioned countries like the USA, Great Britain, Germany and Japan, to name a few, as world leading nations. However, getting funding is hard. It is hard in developed countries, and it is even harder in developing ones. All of us doing research in countries in which science is regarded as a low-priority activity, hope that our governments’ policies will change in the near future, and scientific research will be regarded as a fundamental activity that will help to move our countries forward. In the meantime, we have to keep working hard and enthusiastically in order to contribute to the generation of new knowledge.

Hector Mayani, PhD
ISEH Publication Committee Member 
Head of the Oncology Research Unit
IMSS National Medical Center
Mexico City, Mexico

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Webinar Re-cap: The Role of Inflammatory Signals in Embryonic HSC Development and Adult HSC Function

Inflammation is a double-edged sword. Inflammatory signals are needed to fight infections, yet too much can contribute to hematologic diseases such as bone marrow failure and malignancy. In recent years since the discoveries from our group and the group of Peggy Goodell that the pro-inflammatory cytokines Interferonα (IFNα) and IFNγ lead to activation of quiescent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in vivo, there has been a revival to uncover the role of these cytokines in the HSCs and the hematopoietic system as a whole. A recent webinar from ISEH entitled “The Role of Inflammatory Signals in Embryonic HSC Development and Adult HSC Function” presents work exploring the role of inflammation in disease and development from leaders in the field- Markus Manz (University Hospital in Zurich), Trista North (Harvard Medical School), and moderated by Katherine King (Baylor College of Medicine).

In general, pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced by cells of the immune system in response to an infection or inflammation. Classically, they are thought to play an important role in the defense against infection by imposing an anti-proliferative effect on differentiated hematopoietic cells, thus preventing the virus from spreading around the body. However, our study and that of the Goodell group in 2009-2010 showed that in the adult mouse, quiescent HSCs directly respond to IFNα or IFNγ, leading to increased proliferation of these cells. These data suggested that HSCs themselves are able to directly respond to infections.
In this most recent ISEH webinar, Dr. Markus Manz gave us an overview of the effect of inflammation on adult HSCs. Over the last years, the Manz lab has published several manuscripts on the direct versus indirect sensing of pathogens by HSCs and the consequences of this on HSCs. In the webinar, Manz started off describing clinical observations that systemic bacterial infections in patients can lead to a demand-adapted response, suggesting stem and progenitor cells dynamically sense and adapt to environmental signals during infection. By creating tissue-specific knock-out lines for Myd88 (a critical adapter for many inflammatory signaling pathways), they could show that endothelial cells in the BM catalyze demand-adapted granulopoiesis resulting from systemic infection in the mouse. He went on further to show that HSCs express Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) and can proliferate in response to the bacterial pattern recognition molecule lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Manz then presented new data using a CFSE-labeling HSC assay to assess division history to determine which clinically relevant cytokine/chemokine receptor agonists/antagonists drive HSCs into self-renewing divisions. Their data combined with work from others that depending on the type of pathogen HSCs can either directly or indirectly sense and respond to infection.
Clonal hematopoiesis with somatic mutations is a common age-related condition and inflammation increases with age. Clinical reports indicate a correlation between a history of major infections and the development of MDS/AML in patients. At the end of his presentation, Manz connected the dots and gave his perspective on how infection-induced effects on quiescent HSCs influence hematopoietic ageing and age-related disease. Future experiments testing whether severe infections affecting the quiescent HSC pool increase the risk for the development of malignancies will demonstrate if these clinical correlations are truly driving forces.
In the second half of the webinar, Dr. Trista North talked about the role of these same pro-inflammatory signals during the emergence of the first HSCs in the embryo. Trista gave us a great overview of the recently discovered new role for pro-inflammatory cytokines like IFNs and Tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) during development. In the embryo, the first hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) arise in the aorta/gonad/mesonephros (AGM) region from hemogenic endothelium. Several groups (including North, Nancy Speck, David Traver, Victor Mulero, Didier Stainier, and Feng Liu) recently demonstrated a novel function for interferons and TNFα signaling during the emergence of the first HSCs in the AGM in zebrafish and mice. They showed that key molecules involved in innate immunity and inflammation are expressed in emerging stem and progenitor cells as well as endothelial cells in the AGM region. During embryonic development, formation of primitive myeloid cells precedes the birth of definitive HSCs. Genetic ablation studies in zebrafish revealed that these primitive myeloid cells are the source of the inflammatory cytokines important for HSC emergence. North also showed new data from a screen performed in zebrafish identifying other inflammatory cytokines utilized during HSC formation. As many of the inflammatory cytokines employed during HSC emergence and the response of adult HSCs to infection are conserved, the screens from Manz and North will be mutually beneficial informing new players critical for HSCs from embryo to old age.
In summary, the data presented in this webinar by Markus Manz and Trista North showed again that there is much more to pro-inflammatory signaling in the hematopoietic system than their role in clearance of infections. Pro-inflammatory signaling plays a role in hematopoiesis from development until adulthood, from the quiescent HSC to the differentiated cells of the system. The great challenge of the future is to understand how pro-inflammatory signaling is influencing these different aspects of hematopoiesis and what the consequences are for ageing and malignancies.
The webinar is now available for viewing online, at your convenience.  Webinars are free to ISEH members. To view this ISEH webinar, or learn about past and upcoming webinars, check out

Marieke Essers, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member
Group leader
'Hematopoietic Stem Cells and Stress'
Division of Stem Cells and Cancer
Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ)
HI-STEM - Heidelberg Institute for Stem Cell Technologies and Experimental Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, 69120 Heidelberg


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Maintaining a Productive Lab: Can you play the peacemaker?

You finally got hired as an assistant professor/group leader! Congratulations are in order. You feel like you achieved a great accomplishment and rightly so. We can assume that you are a wonderful scientist, with a solid CV and interesting ideas. You also managed to convince other colleagues that this is the case. Once more: well done… However, it is at this time point that the biggest challenge begins. And probably you are not adequately prepared. From now on, you don’t need to be only a good scientist, but also a genial manager. Most likely you are not prepared for all these skills that you are assumed to possess, although you were never trained to be a combo of manager, psychologist, negotiator. In addition, you have to be successful enough quickly enough, because the clock for your tenure or contract is ticking…

Breathe! You are not the only one who faces this challenge. The good news is that more and more places have recognized this shortcoming in the education of a new PI and they offer management and behavioral courses to provide you with an armor needed for managing a lab. The bad news is that you still have to excel in most skills in a relatively short time.

One of the most important aspects of your new life as a manager is to manage conflict. And there are so many sources of conflict in a lab! Here, I will just try to enumerate the reasons issues arise and discuss some possible courses of action. Remember: in the end, you need to be the peacemaker, so it’s best to be ready.

Internal competition for projects and results. This usually happens in a lab strictly focused on a narrow field of research. In my opinion, it rarely happens without the knowledge of the PI. It is a managerial style that has been successful for some people, but can destroy all the joy of being part of a team. It can work for highly competitive and ambitious people, but it can easily disrupt your lab. In such cases, it helps to define projects early on and be alert in case two projects come very close together as respective postdocs or students may not notice. Try to deal with the problem before it becomes gigantic with a clear plan forward.

Competition for PI’s attention and time. We are all busy and that can easily translate into ignoring the more shy and timid people and pay all our attention to the louder ones. This problem is easily solved if you keep it in mind. Just be an equal opportunity employer and divide your attention according to needs. Try to remember that some people may not seek your attention but they definitely need it. Setting up consistent meetings with each member of the lab is one way to ensure all voices, regardless of assertiveness, are heard frequently.

Cultural and language differences. This can turn into a big issue and it is usually a matter of great sensitivity. It is really astonishing how much people differ among one another in regard to their educational style and training, as well as cultural norms and behavioral expectations. This diversity can be a source of multi-functionality and inspiration, but it can also cause miscommunication and hard feelings. The important thing is to be aware that these differences exist and are important. It is helpful to directly educate your lab about it; this is especially true if some of the people in your laboratory are native to the country and feel comfortable in their environment and language, but may not be sensitive enough to understand the cultural impact on others. Simple, honest explanations with the whole lab as a team could easily solve these issues. Explain to your people that actions, including jokes and social interplay, are sometimes perceived differently. Similarly, acknowledge that responsibility, willingness to help or collaborate and work/life balance are also sensitive matters that can differ among cultures. Incentivize your people to this matter and make them aware of their behavior and how it can be perceived.

Hiring the wrong people. It can happen and it will happen. Especially at the beginning of your career it is easy to make mistakes. You don’t even know what kind of people would be good for your lab. There are few rules that can help you minimize the problem. Be honest about your expectations. Many people prioritize their work and life totally differently than you. You cannot expect them to follow your work style, if you haven’t explicitly told them what it is. Sometimes personal preference does not help in hiring the right people, although I always tend to go for a person that I like and would easily interact with. Hiring somebody just for their technical expertise is not always a wise choice either, especially if you need them to work in a team or adapt as projects mature. In brief, decide the kind of person you want to hire and explain clearly what you expect. If for some reason it doesn’t work, in either the short or long-term, be honest with them and yourself and be mentally prepared to let someone go to avoid permanently disrupting your lab culture.

Always criticizing. Don’t forget to praise good efforts instead of criticizing all the time. It is understandable that you are a new PI, you need to succeed, you are anxious and everything seems to be going so slow. Get over it, have realistic expectations and don’t forget to encourage your students and postdocs. Praise their knowledge and skill, and listen to their opinions. Congratulate determined efforts and good results. Give your lab members some responsibilities and make them feel part of the team and it will help ensure collaborative interactions.

There are many more reasons for conflict, and you will eventually have to face all of them. Don’t expect that the problem will be solved by itself, because it probably won’t and will eventually become much bigger. That being said, leave some responsibilities to other people and don’t try to micro-manipulate everything and everybody.  Be fair; ask your people about your new hires and create all together a lab culture with a vision statement. What exactly do you want to achieve in this lab as a team? Make some rules together and stick to them, and then familiarize newcomers to your lab rules and culture. It may sound hard, but it is well worth some time investment to make your lab a productive place of joy and inspiration instead of a simple workplace.

Eirini Trompouki
ISEH Publications Committee Member

Group Leader
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics
Stübeweg 51, 79108
Freiburg, Germany