Thursday, February 9, 2017

Navigating Career Development Awards

For young scientists on the brink of independence, attaining a career development grant can be pivotal for a successful job search.  Establishing a trajectory of external funding early in your career demonstrates not only your capability for grantsmanship, but also your ability to navigate funding opportunities.  In some cases, a career award can bring you to a specific institution or even (back) to a specific country.  It also provides you with an unparalleled opportunity to scope out and define the pathway(s) for your future independent research, and lay out a tentative plan that will prove invaluable when you prepare research statements for job applications. 

Although it is arguable that scientists these days spend too much time writing grants, there are definitely benefits to the process. Grant writing provides the rare chance to catch up on relevant literature, formalize research objectives, and think about future directions.  This is particularly true for young scientists, who still spend the majority of their time at the bench.  While many young scientists may have had some experience with grant-writing that involved collaborations with their mentors, writing a career development grant often represents one of the first times that this endeavor is taken on independently.

In this article, we have outlined a few things that we found helped the process of writing and applying for a career development award progress relatively smoothly.  We also include tips for submitting a successful application.

Identify Opportunities
Many funding opportunities exist, and your first goal is to find the opportunity that is the right fit for you. The best starting point is to search granting agencies in your country (or the country you plan to move to) and determine what career development programs they offer.  Ask fellow colleagues or mentors about their experiences attaining career development funding (they may even be willing to share their successful application with you!). Find out if your institution or neighboring institutions offer workshops for identifying and preparing career development awards. Search for funding opportunity databases and check if your institution has a http://pivot.cos.com subscription. Note funding that is listed in the acknowledgement slides of talks at meetings.  Keep your eyes open! Funding opportunities may also be available from non-government and private agencies but may take a little more legwork to find.

Start early
This is the most important point of all. If you start early, you can put a lot of thought into the structure of the proposal before you start typing a lot of text or get overly committed to a specific line of investigation or approach. You’ll have time to search the literature and revise the proposal based on feedback. Research your particular funding opportunity and be sure to identify all of the required components and any specific eligibility requirements.  It is good to inquire about reference letters and scientific advisory committee participation early, as last-minute requests can be viewed as inconsiderate by senior investigators. It may even be advisable to plan some time “off” from experiments to focus on grant writing.

Make a checklist
Many career development awards involve a lot of “bits and pieces”.  Navigating the guides to these proposals is not always straightforward, so staying organized is instrumental.  Make a checklist of all the required components to keep track of your progress towards the deadline (K99 example: http://bit.ly/2hLzRCU).  Depending on your institution, you may be able to get help from administrative staff or grant coordinators.  If one of your colleagues has submitted a similar application before, looking at their example can be particularly helpful (especially if it was awarded!). Some components may need specific input from your current PI and/or collaborators, so remember to provide sufficient time for them to schedule work on your application as well.

Ask for advice
It is extremely useful to assemble a “reading committee”, a few fellow postdocs or faculty mentors who provide critical feedback. It is helpful if you can plan a meeting where everybody explains their comments, as the resulting synergy and discussion will often pinpoint what you should focus on to improve the proposal. Ideally, this meeting would occur a month or more before the deadline so you have time to make changes.

Identify your own direction

For those at the later stages in their training (approaching independence), it is essential that your grant identify a path for your future research that is distinct from your mentor’s current research.  Depending on what kind of lab you’re in and what you’ve been working on, this may be very straightforward, or may take extra time (see “Start early”, above) and several discussions with your PI to parse out.  It is important that your mentor expands on or clarifies this point in their letter within the grant application package.  Having your mentor delineate their support for your independence can be an significant factor in attaining funding. As mentioned above, this important step can also be fundamental in helping you carve out your future directions as part of a job application.


Assemble a mentoring / scientific advisory committee
For many career development grants, review committees want to see interactions with and guidance from more than just your primary mentor. It is highly beneficial to establish mentoring relationships with people whose expertise will specifically benefit your career trajectory and/or your proposed research, either within your same institution or at different institutions. Are you planning to learn an exciting new technique to investigate your question of interest?  Identify a mentor with expertise in that technique, and incorporate visits to their lab as part of your proposed training.  Are you planning to expand your training into a slightly different field as part of your career development?  Find a mentor that is an expert within that field to guide your training and with whom to discuss your research outcomes. While it may take several tries to get the mentors your desire, making these additional connections will greatly benefit your career in the future.  Additionally, be prepared (and always offer) to provide draft letters for your mentors, specifying their contribution to your career development and/or research proposals.  This will not only save your prospective mentors time (which they will surely appreciate) but will also allow you to craft letters that closely match the focus and aims of your grant. 

Contact your funding source

It is a good idea to reach out to your fellowship office or program officer to seek feedback  as soon as you have a draft of your specific aims. Be sure that the draft or summary page you submit is refined enough to provide the funding agency with a clear vision of your aims.  The purpose for this can be as basic as ensuring that your application is a good fit for the agency, and it also initiates contact.  For example, the translational implications you propose may be a poor fit for that particular funding opportunity, or a National Institute of Health program officer may suggest you submit your application to another institute instead. Knowing these things early on can save you a lot of time.  Once your application is submitted, your contact within the funding agency will be able to answer questions about the review process, and will often be able to help you interpret your reviews after you’ve received them.  They can provide invaluable feedback for your resubmission, since often times they are present during the review of your proposal.

After submission
Hopefully you were funded on your first submission!  If not, read through your reviews carefully and identify areas that the reviewers collectively felt could use improvement. Don’t get too discouraged, as the vast majority of grants are not awarded on the first try. Instead, focus on how you can better shape your application based on the feedback.  Certain areas - like research statements and career objectives - will be easier to re-shape.  Other parts of your application, such as applicant biosketch, may be more difficult -but not impossible- to address directly.  For example, if publication record is a weakness, one might consider waiting until you have published a relevant paper before resubmitting your application.  Your goal is to identify the comments that you can work with, and most importantly, to make sure the reviewers know in your resubmission exactly how you addressed their concerns and improved your application.  Career grant writing is a great opportunity to start honing those perseverance skills necessary to become a successful grant writer and independent scientist! 





Anna Beaudin, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member

Assistant Professor
UC Merced




Peter van Galen, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member

Postdoctoral Fellow
Massachusetts General Hospital / Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Making The Leap, Pt. 2: Some Strategies for Interview Success

“Eric, I’m going to ask you some hard questions now. Give your nobel prize speech, in 50 words or less. Go.”
-Interviewer at an academic institution


This post is the second in a series relating to making the leap between postdoc to faculty. The goal is to relate some of my insights into the process based on my experience, both then and now, from the other end of the desk. In this post, we’ll explore some strategies to master the main components of interviews: meetings, the seminar and the chalk talk.

Know who you’re meeting with: If you’ve applied to an institution, then it’s a fair bet that you’ve already identified potential collaborators or people of interest who you will want to speak to while you are interviewing. Often (though not always), institutions will ask you if you want to meet with specific people. If they don’t ask you about specific meetings you’d like to have, it doesn’t hurt for you to ask the faculty member or admin handling your visit about some individuals you have in mind. Once your itinerary is settled, it will be forwarded to you. Beyond looking carefully at the details about how you are to get from the airport to the hotel, and from hotel to the interview, note closely the people you are meeting with. Depending on the position and department/division to which you are applying, you may meet almost entirely with people whose work you are familiar with.  It is also likely that you will meet with others who have either identified you as a potential collaborator, or who are stakeholders in your hiring (deans, department and division heads, CEOs or VPs). One interview itinerary for a biology department had me meeting with specialists in raptor behavior as well as inflammation. My industry interview put me in rooms with a physical chemist and a medicinal chemist. Regardless, I looked these people up, read their papers or websites beforehand, and expanded my horizons. Why? The raptor specialist and physical chemist had just as much voting power on my hire as the immunologist. I was probably not going to collaborate with him, but it would be worth knowing about his work, operationally out of respect and ability to have a two-way conversation, but in reality also as a way to learn something new.  Where potential synergies exist with a particular faculty member, it’s worth discussing these in your one-on-one meeting with them. In meetings with deans or department heads, I anticipated that I would be discussing my work with these busy people concisely, from the high-altitude viewpoint, and with emphasis how it would integrate with and enrich their organizational unit as a whole. They were not going to be concerned with my HSC transplantation strategy either during or after the interview. Importantly, if you are interviewing for a position associated with a graduate program, do not underestimate the importance of lunches or meetings with students. They may seem like they’re mostly eager to discuss their work or asking you mentorship-related questions, but keep in mind they are evaluating your potential in these areas and typically report their views to the faculty search committee. As a last point, it’s okay to ask multiple people the same questions. You may think you sound like a broken record, but relating to the first post, it’s a good idea to get multiple viewpoints on key issues relating to the environment and resources integral to your success. Have such key questions composed in advance of your interviews to ensure you aren’t losing key opportunities by making it up as you go along.

A last point to make: academic one-on-one meetings tended to be somewhat freewheeling. They were often centered around potential collaborations or questions relating to the science I do and how it might fit into the department. The discussions largely (if indirectly) related to evaluating my potential as a collaborator, as a citizen of the department, and potential as an independent investigator and mentor. My industry interview on the other hand was highly structured. Individual team members had specific pre-determined sets of questions relating to my ability to sequence projects, problem-solve, identify priorities, deal constructively with superiors, provide leadership to direct reports, and work dynamically on multiple projects. Questions also related to whether I was able to drop a project and move on if required. These questions required me to provide specific examples relating to these topics as well. The interviewers took detailed notes as I talked with them. My discussion with the head of the unit was mostly related to my interest in an industry career.

Give your TED talk: Seminars are actually fun if you are prepared and confident. For the seminar, make sure you have a connection for your laptop and the projector, and your talk on a flash drive.  I remember at least two institutions did not have their own adapters at the seminar room. I also bought my own laser pointer/PowerPoint remote for the same reason; not every institution had a laser pointer in place on the podium. In both cases, these preparations make life easier for you and win optics points for preparation and professionalism. Most institutions also did not have an AV person present to set up the computer. Learning the idiosyncrisies of your machine’s relationship with projection equipment ahead of time could save you from turning your seminar into a second chalk talk, and the flash drive allows you to load your talk onto another computer. Keeping a PDF version on the drive also insulates you from Mac/PC image compatibility issues. Know how to speak into and position both lavalier (clip-on) and lectern microphones before your seminar. Ensure your shoes are broken in and comfortable and have water nearby (avoid placing it where it can spill onto your laptop).

Regarding content, your goal is to get your concepts across, not to describe in depth every supplemental figure from your last publication. Begin broadly, identify the scientific problem and its significance, and do not be afraid to have several introductory slides to get the conceptual framework across. Show key pieces of data, explain complex assays with cartoons, and do the same with the models. In your conclusion, re-address the scientific problem and how your data impact the problem and the field. Importantly, the seminar is not just about your past (or current) work under your mentor. You should spend at least 5-10 minutes discussing what you plan to do next as an independent investigator apart from your mentor, and identify how your work and resources or faculty at that particular institution can synergize. Leaving this part out raises questions as to what you plan to do and therefore your independence. Reiterating from Dan’s blog post, do not assume that everyone at your seminar will be at your chalk talk. People should leave the seminar with a clear idea as to your scientific intent. Keep additional data slides after your acknowledgement slide as a resource. Do not go over time. For my industry talk, what I would do as an independent investigator was a moot point. I spent more time in background discussing the relevance of my work to specific indications where there are ongoing drug development efforts, and discussed at the end how my work and skill set could fit into the company’s interests and lead to initiation of projects for new indications.

Put your ideas on the board: Chalk talks were probably my favorite part of the academic interviews. When else do you get to visit another institution to obtain free advice on your first R01 from experts in the field who are potentially interested in hiring you? For me, this was an exciting opportunity, and the conversations were great. I was challenged, in one case intensely by a faculty member from an institution that later offered me a position. The individual’s critique was legitimate; I kept my cool, acknowledged that the questioner was correct, and offered my appreciation and ways to strengthen the approach. Many of the suggestions and critiques I received at chalk talks have since been extremely useful. Some other points: remember how I mentioned packing my own dry-erase markers in part 1 of the series? Fully half of the chalk talk rooms had no markers, off-colors (brown and orange in one room) or non-working markers. It was an easy optics point to score with faculty who were saved from having to scramble to find markers. Copies of your research prospectus and/or a one-page summary of your aims (preferably with a good conceptual cartoon) can also be of use; I brought copies of the former to my chalk talks and left them near the door for faculty who were filing in. Importantly, if your itinerary does not include 10-15 minutes to prep the chalk talk board beforehand, ask for it. This allows you to get your overall aims/subaims or themes, and maybe a conceptual diagram, up so that you can spend more time talking and less writing. I kept a notepad with my chalk talk talking points mapped out as a sort of scratch pad for ideas, but rarely used this during the chalk talk itself. Make sure you also know how to write legibly on a dry-erase board. Chalk talks will also range in attendance. Attendees to mine ranged from two faculty to about twenty faculty, postdocs and graduate students. Chalk talks at industry interviews are largely atypical.

If you are generally nervous giving seminars or chalk talks, practice and build confidence beforehand. Since becoming faculty member, I have been in faculty meetings where excessive nervousness during a candidate’s talk was mentioned as a potential issue by some of my colleagues. When you are comfortable, invite faculty at your current institution who are known to ask tough questions and not back down to these practice talks. Learn how it feels to be under pressure and you will gain confidence in dealing with it without becoming either defensive or downtrodden.

Taking questions: A key point for every component of the interview process—don’t answer questions impulsively without understanding what is being asked. Paraphrase the question back to the questioner if needed. It gives you time to think it over, and ensures you have processed the question. If you aren’t sure what is being asked of you, politely ask for clarification. Once you understand, then proceed to offer an answer, and keep it to the point. The question at the top of the post? It was less asking for something beginning with “Your Majesties and distinguished guests” and more about soliciting a succinct, 30,000-foot view of my research program and its importance. Taking the time to figure out the intent of the question is the antidote to stumbling over words in front of people making a decision about hiring you.

Plus, real Nobel speeches are always more than 50 words.

Coming up in the third part of the series, we’ll discuss second interviews and starting the process of choosing an institution.





Eric Pietras, PhD
ISEH Member and Simply Blood Contributor 

Assistant Professor
Division of Hematology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Aurora, CO, USA


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Making The Leap, Pt. 1: Interview Preparation

“Hm. Here’s my suit…now where’s my belt??”
-Me, at the hotel getting ready for an interview

During my job search in 2015, I interviewed at seven academic institutions and one biotech company. In the end I was offered positions at the company as a scientist and at three universities as tenure-track faculty. Each interview was its own unique story. One interview location was a long morning haul to the institution via rental car for a first-thing-in-the morning seminar. A blizzard during a different interview left me stranded in the town the day before I was supposed to fly to Keystone for a conference. The biotech interview was nothing like the academic interviews. Ultimately the process was certainly intense, but also fun and extraordinarily valuable for a young scientist. It’s your first chance to essentially ‘go on tour’ with your own scientific identity. This post is the first in a series relating to making the leap between postdoc to faculty. The goal is to relate some of my insights into the process based on my experience, both then and now, from the other end of the desk. Importantly, if you’ve not read Dan Lucas’ and Isabel Beerman’s posts on academic interviewing (Part 1 and Part 2) they are a fantastic resource and go into great detail on how these interviews are structured. In this first segment, I’ll discuss some logistical strategies and basic principles to keep in mind as you prepare for the interview.

What to bring: Packing for an interview has a few subtleties. Forgetting something, whether it’s an item of clothing or your laptop, is a confidence-killer. You should assume that you won’t have time to replace items you don’t bring. You should also remember that if you are flying and have everything in a checked bag, there is a small (but not insignificant) chance your bag will not be on a carousel. I kept my laptop and power supply, remote/laser pointer, notepad, dry-erase markers, and video adapter in my carry-on shoulder bag, along with a pair of trousers, tie and button-down shirt just in case. The unappetizing thought of showing up to the next morning’s interview in jeans and a t-shirt and having to explain why all day made this a sensible move. Also, regarding clothing, go business formal. It’s a matter of respect and professionalism. I wore a suit the first day, for the second day I dressed down slightly to what I had in my shoulder bag. For second interviews, I ditched the suit but still kept it professional. I also learned how to properly fold those items into a bag to minimize wrinkling. At one interview, I arrived at the hotel at midnight local time and needed to be up at 6 am the next morning and drive to the interview, hopefully beating a blizzard in the process. Half an hour of ironing would not constitute a good use of my time. Lastly, cases where you need to do your own driving (as was the case for two of my interviews), have a smart phone with GPS (or a stand-alone GPS device) and a charger handy and be sure you know where you’re going.

Basic survival: Interviews are fun, but also intense. Most of mine lasted one full and one half day, with the flight in the afternoon before, and flight out the afternoon of the second day. All first visits had a seminar the first day. All but two academic interviews had the chalk talk on the second day of the first visit; one had the chalk talk directly after the seminar, and one had the chalk talk during the second interview. You will likely have no time to yourself from about 7am to 9pm on the first day of the interview. You will also likely not have time or ability to finish meals; they are often with students (typically at lunch) or a faculty member or two, and are conversation-heavy. On interview days, I kept energy bars and a bottle of water in my shoulder bag to keep hydrated and fed. Also: at the height of the process I was traveling roughly 3 of 4 days per week for over a month. Depending on your schedule you may need to temper your expectations of what you can accomplish back in the lab. Also consider your need to stay physically and mentally healthy. Illness, fatigue and interviews do not mix well.

Optics matter: Hires are made not just based on your scientific acumen. You were invited because the faculty hiring committee found your CV to be interesting. Now they have the opportunity to see whether they want to work with the person behind the CV. How you come across during the interview process, ranging from how you handle the initial contacts to the travel logistics to your interaction with every student, postdoc, technician and faculty member can impact the outcome of the interview. Respond promptly and precisely to emails from individuals at the institution regardless of their position. Be respectful of everyone you meet. During your talk and chalk talk, respond respectfully to questions, even if they are either off the mark or aggressive. At meals, mind your manners, and do not over-imbibe. The bottom line is to be yourself (appearing insincere or inauthentic is an easy disqualifier), but maintain professional standards of conduct at all times so you don’t become their ‘worst interviewee ever’ story instead of their next hire. Avoid discussing potentially polarizing issues outside of science, and remember that issues like spousal hires, real estate, startup package and the like are usually better left for second interviews, when the institution is moving to actively recruit you and is ready to consider such matters. Conversely, questions from faculty or other interviewers related to your family and marital status, religion, race, medical issues and/or gender are often illegal and as such you need not provide an answer. Lastly, and importantly, when the interview is finished it’s probably worth it to individually thank via email each person you met with, as well as the admin(s) who took care of the logistics. It is to me a matter of respect for their time and efforts on my behalf, and in nearly every case elicited a response, always positive. I typically drafted these on the plane ride home so they were sent in a timely manner. Such emails also open the door for further correspondence if you didn’t get to ask a key question.

Interviews are not a one-way evaluation: Interviewing for positions in a highly competitive job market should not interfere with the important point that you should be evaluating the institution just as much as they evaluate you. Are their people (particularly recent hires) happy, productive and well funded? Are their research facilities cutting-edge and in good order? Did the interview seem well organized or slapped together at last minute? Did you like the people whom you met? Were your seminars and chalk talks well attended? Did departmental/unit leadership seem interested in you and your work? Did the students and/or staff appear of high caliber? Are the potential collaborations promising? Do they have what you need to set up your research program? Good mentorship, availability of qualified students, technicians, postdocs and clinical fellows to staff your lab, good faculty collaborators, balanced teaching loads, appropriate resources for your research program and evidence of institutional and departmental support for faculty are critical for the success of new investigators. These are important areas that you should make a point to ask about, and to ask multiple people for their input. During a Skype pre-interview, I declined an in-person interview invitation after finding out about a lack of proper sorting facilities; likewise, I found out that another institution didn’t have appropriate mouse facilities and offered no teaching protection for faculty during their first year. These were both dealbreakers for me, and it was better to find out at the first interview than on day one of my faculty job. The bottom line is that as much as you want the institution to love you, you need to love them back in order to have a productive career there.


Coming up in the second part of the series, I’ll discuss some insights into how to approach one-on-one meetings, seminars and chalk talks during job interviews.



Eric Pietras, PhD
ISEH Member and Simply Blood Contributor 

Assistant Professor
Division of Hematology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Aurora, CO, USA

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 ISEH Journal Club: Q&A with Jeff Bernitz

The New Investigators Committee is excited to announce a new ISEH Journal Club for 2017. We will be starting with an exciting publication by Jeff Bernitz, Kateri Moore and colleagues, entitled Hematopoietic Stem Cells Count and Remember Self-Renewal Divisions, recently published in CELL.
 
This first ISEH Journal Club will run 23rd-30th January. During this time, Jeff Bernitz will be answering any questions you have about the paper on the ISEH Facebook page. Please join the ISEH Facebook group, post your questions and join the discussion!
 
To help introduce this paper and start the discussion, we conducted a Q&A with paper’s first author, Jeff Bernitz. Jeff is a current PhD student with Kateri Moore at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
 
Question 1. What are the key findings of your paper?
Jeff: I think there were several key findings in the paper, but in the end these can be boiled down to two. The first is that cells within the HSC compartment are capable of maintaining a record of their divisional history, and this impacts on both their future regenerative potential and cell cycle progression. This memory also appears to instruct how HSCs accumulate with age. The second is that the stem cell compartment is heterogeneous, with the minority of these cells possessing LT-HSC function, and this is especially true when considering the aging HSC compartment. I think this is something that the field already knew, but what is nice about our work is that we were able to show that this functional heterogeneity can be correlated to divisional history.
 
Question 2. What was the motivation for this line of research?
Jeff: I wish I could say that there was a direct line of logic that motivated the work, but the truth is the study came together largely out of serendipity. A previous graduate student in the lab had placed 30-40 of our label-retaining mice on doxycycline, but never analyzed the mice before she left. This left us with several cages of mice that had been on dox for 9-12 months by the time I started. When I came into the lab I initially didn't have a project, so my first task was to analyze some of these mice that had been on dox for over a year just to see if we could find any label-retaining cells left in the HSC compartment. Of course, we were surprised when we found label-retaining cells after a year on dox, so we started doing transplants and the study slowly began to evolve and reveal itself to us from there.
 
Question 3. In your opinion, how will your story impact the blood field? What new questions does it open up?
Jeff: I hope the story will get people to begin considering how divisional history may play a role in defects associated with drug treatments, stress, and (in our case) aging. I also think that a major implication of our work may extend to understanding HSC expansion for clinical use. The field has been attempting to expand stem cells ex vivo for decades, but has been largely unsuccessful. I think our work provides clues as to why these efforts have not worked: divisional history directly relates to HSC regenerative potential, and the more a cell divides the less regenerative potential it contains. Thus simply forcing HSCs to “self-renew” may not be possible. Obviously this opens a Pandora’s box of questions on how HSCs maintain their divisional history counter, and by extension how we can reset this memory to aid in expanding HSCs without sacrificing function.
 
Question 4. Are there members of our ISEH community that contributed to the context for your paper? How did he/she contribute to your research question?
Jeff: Yes, there are several. Isabel Beerman and Derrick Rossi demonstrated nicely that increasing HSC divisional history via serial 5-FU injections induces several cellular and molecular changes associated with aging HSCs. This work was followed up on by Dagmar Walter and Amelie Lier from Michael Milsom’s group, where they demonstrate serial rounds of pI:pC induced proliferative stress leads to DNA damage accumulation in HSCs, which in the context of Fanca-/- mice results in a premature aging phenotype associated with Fanca mutations in humans. Together, these studies showed that the accumulation of divisional history may underlie several defects associated with HSC aging. Additionally, Ryo Yamamoto and Hiromitsu Nakauchi showed that the phenotypically identifiable HSC compartment contains cells that, upon transplantation, only generate myeloid cells. This work directly inspired our limiting dilution transplantation studies in the paper. As it is known that myeloid output from the HSC compartment increases with age we wanted to see if this was in part due to an over-representation of myeloid-restricted progenitors, and whether these cells correlated with an extensive divisional history.
 
Question 5. Who would you particularly like to read your paper?
Jeff: If I could have anyone read the paper, that person would be Christa Muller-Sieburg. I worked in Christa’s lab as an intern during undergrad, and my time in her lab heavily influenced how I view and interpret HSC research. In some ways I feel this directly contributed to how our paper came together. Her husband, Hans Sieburg, collaborated with us on this work, and both Teri and I view the paper as the culmination of my time and experiences between the two labs. Christa had one of the most beautiful minds I’ve ever seen. When we had journal club and lab meeting, she would pick out flaws in logic and reason that no one else perceived. She was sharp as a knife. I would particularly like her to read the paper, in part, because I know she would shred it to pieces – which can be devastating, but in the end I think this makes us better critical thinkers and scientists. Though more than anything, I just hope that the work would make her proud.

Thank you to Jeff Bernitz for kicking off our 2017 ISEH Journal Club.  Please visit the ISEH Facebook page from 23rd-30th January to submit your questions and join the discussion.



Adam Wilkinson, PhD
ISEH New Investigators Committee Member

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
Stanford Medicine
CA, USA

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Simply Thankful

Wow! 2016 flew by. I can’t say that it went as expected, or necessarily even as hoped, but there is a new year dawning and another chance to begin anew and grow scientifically, professionally and personally.

Much to my honest surprise and delight, our “Simply Blood” blog has been a well-received and well-read success! It was wonderful to see the numbers of readers steadily increase, and to get such positive feedback at the ISEH meeting on the topics we have covered so far. My sincere thanks to all those who contributed over this past year and to those who continue to check out each post. Also a huge thank you to the rest of the publications committee for stepping up to fill in the production schedule, generating new ideas, acting as informal editors, and for an overall positive outlook on the whole experience.

Given the encouraging reception to our first year, we have many exciting new things planned for 2017. We have added some recurring blog themes, such as a focus on the experience of “Women in Science” and “Transitioning from Postdoc to Faculty”. We will also begin a collaboration with the New Investigator committee to broaden and extend their online journal club format via a blog interview with each selected article’s authors to allow additional question/answer insight on their research topic and career path. And we have greatly expanded our crew of writers to add new and differing perspectives, particularly from those in training, from other regions around the world, and outside of academic medicine and research. Finally, we have spruced up the logo and formatting to make things appear more official- a clear sign of our ongoing commitment to this platform.

With these promising plans on our end underway, what we need now is even more engagement from you, the members of the ISEH community. We hope that we can continue to expand our readership – please forward the publication link to friends and colleagues - as well as make the blog more interactive with dynamic comments and perspectives in response to each post. As always, we welcome both your suggestions and criticisms, shared publically or privately. Airing differing opinions in a respective manner helps us all to reflect and grow. Similarly, hearing about others experiencing the same joys and struggles reminds us all that we are not alone in this process of scientific exploration and professional development. Related, if you have a lot to say or think there are topics we need to discuss, we are always looking for new voices and ideas, so please consider becoming a blog contributor!

As this is a New Year’s post, in addition to sharing our good news and plans for the blog, I also wanted to take the time to issue a personal note of thanks. The interaction and support from the ISEH community is incomparable, and I am continuously thankful for all the collaborators, colleagues and friends worldwide that I have come to know through the society. It is a rare community that is so wholly focused on developing the next generation of scientists, both scientifically and academically, and I am grateful to have been an active member of our somehow close-knit, yet ever expanding and inclusive group throughout the years. There are so many things I have learned from you. So many times you have offered kind words, suggestions and even a shoulder to cry on. Varied perspectives, outcomes and approaches drive our ability to understand the world around us, as well as our place in it. I am thankful for your commitment not only to me, but also to each other. We grow strongest when we work together toward common ends.

Here’s to much success as we continue the mission of ISEH in 2017 and beyond.



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, December 29, 2016

Life Beyond the Lab

What is a scientist? “A scientist is a person who wears a lab coat, glasses, gloves, has messy hair and works with green substances, and probably he/she is a bit crazy!” That was my 9 year-old niece`s answer when I asked her about how she pictured a scientist. Interestingly, that thought is not confined to children, in fact it is a popular image of a scientist (except for the green stuff) among non-scientists. But we, as scientists, know that this perception is far from the truth. We all know that science can be all consuming at times, at times absorbing 80% of our day. Between failed and successful experiments, biological discussions, database searches, statistical analyses that fall just short of significance, meeting with our supervisor to discuss all the details, and at the end of the day dreaming about all of the above. Without noticing, we start giving more and more of our time to science and less to our lives beyond the lab. We start cancelling meetings with friends, family and even with the gym. By doing so, we start getting closer and closer to the boiling point where stress turns us into the caricature of a scientist that my niece imagines. Maybe some of us can’t do anything about the messy hair, but I believe we could turn down the craziness a little bit. One important thing that some of us forget and I think we need to embrace is that there is life beyond the lab.
 
As a PhD student, we expect to and have experienced stress at its boiling point. Sometimes we feel apocalyptic about our project and our life as a scientist. But there is hope for all of us! The first step is to recognize and accept the workload we choose in this crazy business, and by acknowledging begin to search for productive ways to deal with the stress rather than reaching for crazy ideas. The key is a simple, universal truth that is not hidden at all: find a stress reliever. Find activities you enjoy to do outside the lab, like practicing a sport, doing zumba or body combat, or if you enjoy more calm stuff, read a good book or just stay home and watch Netflix. Whatever works for you!  
 
What is important is to be aware that our work at the lab is just a part of our life; family, friends and mainly OURSELVES complete it. I had the fortune to meet and work with a Japanese researcher, a scientific leader in his field, who I consider the most successful person I have ever met.  He seemed to have in his power the magic formula to balance every aspect of his life. How do I know that? He was always in a good mood! And he was able to transmit it to all around him.  He said he did not like to take work home. He had a schedule: once his work time was up, he left the lab and science behind, and enjoyed his family and hobbies.  There was a phrase he used to say a lot, “If I am doing great in my emotional life, I will succeed in every challenge I give myself, ´cause if that works, everything will work!”.
 
It sounds like an easy thing to do, but it requires discipline and hard work. The key is to organize work and life to carve out quality time for yourself and your loved ones. Once that is established, everything will just take its course. In conclusion, keep on the hard work… in every aspect of your life! 
 
 


Alicia Aguilar

PhD Candidate in Biomedical Sciences
Hematopoietic Niche and Microenvironment Laboratory
Mexican Institute of Social Security
 
 
 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Emerging Technologies – same questions, new toys

One of the most formative moments of my PhD training was an afternoon in my supervisor Professor Connie Eaves’ office discussing potential ways to study the direct progeny of single blood stem cells. At this point (~2005), a handful of groups had shown that a single cell could be transplanted into a recipient mouse and durably give rise to all of the mature blood cell types.  We were interested in trying to formally demonstrate whether one blood stem cell could create two in vitro, and if so, at what frequency. The question had actually stemmed from a thesis committee meeting that the student above me (Brad Dykstra) had just had where his committee discussed possible ways to get at the question (the value of strong thesis committees cannot be underestimated, and I should note that longstanding ISEH member Kelly McNagny was on both mine and Brad’s and was an idea machine!).

Anyhow, Connie sat and politely listened to our “really novel” idea and the sort of MacGyver approach that we were planning to use to split the first two progeny of an HSC and assay them separately. At the end of the meeting, she calmly said, “David, you should go and dig up Makio’s papers from 1982 and 1983 and have a look through those first”. I left Connie’s office wondering, “Who is Makio and what could papers written in the first two years of my life possibly have to do with the cutting edge of science?” Well, it turns out that Makio was Professor Makio Ogawa and the work that he published in the early 1980s in hematopoietic colonies were conceptually almost exactly the same as the ones we were pitching in our primitive stem cell populations. For me, this was a real lesson in the value of reading older studies – in particular the discussion sections where scientists aim to communicate why they were trying to answer a question in the first place and what it might mean for future studies. Perhaps the most humbling aspect of the whole experience was that this team of researchers in 1982 would have gladly done the exact same experiment that we were proposing if they’d only had the same tools at their disposal – so much for our “really novel” idea.

In recent years, several new technologies have come online for use in the blood system (e.g., cellular barcoding, lineage tracing, single cell RNA-sequencing, mass cytometry) and these are opening up new opportunities to ask questions that have typically been relegated to more speculative sections of research papers and reviews. As an example, monitoring steady-state hematopoiesis by lineage tracing (e.g., Busch et al., Sun et al., Sawai et al.) has shown us that traditional transplantation-based assays have vastly underestimated the length of blood cell production of multi-lineage progenitor cell populations. The next technological breakthrough in this area is just around the corner – using endogenous genetic barcode-like sequences to track clones – and has already been predicted in the final sentence from an excellent 2012 review by past-ISEH president Gerald de Haan: “Future experiments are likely to exploit induced or naturally occurring barcode-like sequence variations to improve our understanding of clonal dynamics of multicellular systems”

In our lab’s recent work, we took an old technology (flow-cytometric index-sorting) and coupled it with new developments in single cell RNA-sequencing and computational biology to link cell function with molecular profiles. A not-so-bold prediction would be that future studies will be undertaken in other tissues where single cell functional assays are being developed or that more single cell measurements (e.g., protein expression, cell cycle status) will be recorded in index-sorted hematopoietic stem cells – we simply need to develop the tools and the questions are already there to be answered.

Overall, I guess I’m making a case for thinking more deeply about the types of questions that have not yet been answered simply because of technological barriers and taking on the challenge. Find old papers and read them – where would the experiments go next? what did the authors wish they could do but was not possible at this time? Just because it isn’t online doesn’t mean that it isn’t valuable. We should regularly scour the literature from our field to dig up the “oldies” to understand and build on the thinking that has already been done. In my lab’s journal club, we pick a recent paper to discuss and then I tack on an old paper that is a precursor to the study because the reality is that all studies build on the solid foundations of other people’s work. The other, sadder reality is that many researchers do not spend nearly enough time reading or considering the history of their own field before undertaking their studies or writing their papers. However, I hope this will change with efforts such as ISEH’s where the goal is to build easy-to-access resources (like the webinars and Hematology 101) for educating its membership.

"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history."
~Aldous Huxley






David Kent, PhD
Former ISEH Publications Committee Member

Group Leader
Cambridge Stem Cell Institute
Cambridge, UK