Can you find artist among the scientific community? If you ask someone off the street if they consider a scientist an artist many may answer no; perceiving scientist as dull people in lab coats. This early March serval scientist at the Tufts Boston Campus where challenged to strut their artistic skills in the Sci-Art Competition helping break down the dull scientist persona people often perceive.
Jacob Klickstein, a Neuroscience student won first place with his “Brain Storm” piece. The piece was part of his current lab work in which he was looking at a cluster of iPSC-derived lower motor neurons stained for a cytoskeleton marker (TuJ1-cyan), a nuclear marker (dapi-blue) and a motor neuron-specific transcription factor (Hb9-red).
For second place, we had a tie between graduate students Ashlee Junior and Linus Williams. Ashlee is a Genetics student, her piece titled “INVADERS!” showcases Candida albicans filaments invading an agar plate.
Linus Williams is an Immunology student, his piece “A heart, broken by rejection”, is a Maisson’s Trichrome of a rejected mouse heart (Blue is fibrosis, red is muscle).
Eric Link is a technician in the Zeng lab. His piece “B-CHP Metatarsal on glass slide”, is a collagen hybridizing probe highlighting cartilage remodeling in the growth plate of a developing mouse metatarsal.
Quentin Bernard is a Microbiology student, his piece “Five, six, pick up Tick”, is an oxide’s scapularis tick stuck on its back before it was microinjected.
Alyssa DiLeo is a Neuroscience student. Her piece, “Possibilities: what went wrong with my western blot”, showcases the unfortunate results from a botched western blot.
Rachael Ryner is a CMDB student. Her piece, “Mermaid Mouse Brain”, is a fluorescent mouse brain section that has been immune-stained for beta-catenin and GABA in a CaMKII-Cre:Ai9 background.
Surendra Sharma is a CMDB student. His piece “The Dark Side of the Genome”, describes the long considered “dark matter” of genomes, regulatory noncoding RNAs like miRNAs and lncRNAs which are now recognized as key drivers and/or regulators of a variety of cellular processes.
Dominique Ameroso is a Neuroscience student. Her piece “Alien Astrocytes”, showcases astrocytes in culture – or an alien waiting for host.
Pragya Singh is a CMDB student. Her piece” A network of collagen”, exhibits collagen bundles forming in 3D, specifically a collagen1 gel as a result of LOXL2 treatment.
As scientists we have characteristics that by any dictionary definition would categorize us as artists. Naturally most scientists are curious. Our daily work requires us to be creative, take risks, and have a sense of passion for the work we do. The muse of a scientist lies in the continuous sense of adventure that comes from trying to uncover the unknowns in our projects. We don’t have to look too far for an example of an established scientist who struts his scientific muscles regularly. In our own Tufts community, our very own Dean, Dan Jay, is a visual artist who combines art and science to create pieces that express inspiration in science. This art competition was definitely a testament to our communities vibrant artistic abilities. Thank you to all those who participated and keep a look out for upcoming events and competitions.
“Daniel Jay.” Daniel Jay | School of the Museum of Fine Arts | Tufts University, smfa.tufts.edu/directory/daniel-jay.
There’s a lot of motivation flowing at the
beginning of a new year (and, in this case, a new decade!) to set goals — and
subsequently crush them. Most often, I quickly find that my dedication to stick
with whatever harebrained New Year’s resolution I may or may not have come up
with is waning (exponentially decaying with a half-life of about 4.5 days,
resulting in only 1% of my original motivation still present and accounted for
at the end of January). And while my resolutions have typically focused on personal
development, this year I’m turning my attention to the lab.
As graduate students, we’re often spread thin,
what with trying to get our experiments done, train new students, and meet with
our advisors. Add to that taking classes (at least in your early years),
keeping on top of the literature, creating your own literature, and networking,
and it’s a wonder that any of us have time to focus on things other than our
degrees. What are we to do when we want to set goals and make sure we achieve
I was musing over how to write this article
over dinner with a friend one evening when she mentioned S.M.A.R.T. criteria.
While I’d heard of this acronym before, I never knew exactly what it meant, or
how I was supposed to apply it, until she explained it to me. It makes a whole
lot of practical sense, so I’m going to pay it forward and share it all with
you, in case you were similarly unaware of its meaning and potential.
S.M.A.R.T. criteria were first introduced by
George Doran in 1981 (1). In the article he published, Doran states that
objective should be [(quoted)]:
Specific – target a specific area for
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable – specify who will do it.
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s)
can be achieved.
Keep in mind that this article was originally
meant for managers with a team. Other sources and articles on S.M.A.R.T
criteria use other words (e.g. “achievable” in place of “assignable” and
“relevant” instead of “realistic”) (2). For graduate students, using
“achievable” might be more realistic than “assignable,” since, unless we’re
managing another student, we’re going to “assign” the work to ourselves.
Let’s set an example goal, say, reading more
of the literature in a particular field. How can we make this into a S.M.A.R.T.
goal? For each letter in the acronym, there will be a list of things to
consider and refinement of the goal to include the necessary information.
Specific Consider the goal, who will be involved, and what your motivation is.
“I want to read
more papers to gain a better understanding
of the role of Wnt signaling in cancer.”
Measurable How can this goal be quantified? How will you know if you’ve made progress?
“I want to read 20
papers to gain a better understanding
of the role of Wnt signaling in cancer.”
Assignable/Achievable For graduate students, reading 20 scientific journal articles is certainly an achievable goal. So we get a checkmark here!
Realistic/Relevant Consider what resources are available to help you achieve this goal. Is this goal relevant to your overall objectives (earning a graduate degree)?
access provided by the university library, I want to read 20 papers to
gain a better understanding of the role of Wnt signaling in cancer.”
Time-related Consider what your deadline is (perhaps you’re writing a review article on Wnt signaling and a section on cancer will be included) and whether it is realistic.
“Using journal access provided by the
university library, I want to read 20 papers by June
15th to gain a better understanding of the role of Wnt
signaling in cancer.”
Consider this article as a starting point when
setting goals. The nice thing about S.M.A.R.T. is it gives you an achievable
goal to go after, but the bad thing is it puts you in a structured box, which
can prevent you from taking some bigger risks that could really pay off! It’s
important to know when your goals need to be more flexible than S.M.A.R.T.
criteria allows them to be, but if you, like me, find yourself getting
frustrated for setting goals and not achieving them, this may be a good place
Pepperoni pizza. Pulled-pork sandwiches. Burgers. Bacon. These are some of the foods that I miss the most since deciding to reduce my meat consumption to virtually zero servings a week. My decision was environmentally and eco-consciously driven, but many Americans cut back meat consumption due to health concerns. The risk of red meat and processed meat consumption in cardiac disease, cancer, and overall quality of life has thoroughly pervaded the public conscience. But at the beginning of October 2019, a review was released in the Annals of Internal Medicine that recommended not changing current red or processed meat consumption. The authors concluded there is poor evidence linking red/processed meat consumption to adverse health risks, which directly contradicts years of nutrition research.
I’ve never read a lick of
nutritional research in my life, but I have enough experience in reading scientific
literature to attempt a summary of the review for you here. The authors
integrated evidence from studies that included at least 6 months of red meat or
processed meat consumption and at least 1,000 participants. They additionally
took into consideration the feasibility of reducing meat consumption, the cost
of meat consumption, and the personal preference of eating meat for the
participants. However, they excluded environmental impact and humane animal
practices into their consideration.
The evidence was evaluated with a
set of guidelines the authors outlined, which included systematic review and GRADE
(Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation)
methodology. GRADE is traditionally used in rating clinical drug trials, so
that recommendations can be made regarding a drug’s efficacy and safety. GRADE
was not designed nor has it been used before in nutritional research. After the
evidence was rated in this manner, a “low conflict-of-interest” group of
experts and some public members outside of the science community made their
recommendations. Their findings weren’t very conclusive; evaluation of the
evidence provided little certainty in the risks associated with red meat and
processed meat consumption.
The use of the word “certainty” in
the article highlights the bias that the authors’ methodology introduces; it is
a subjective quality. Our faith in the authors’ discernment depends on our faith
in the authors themselves.
How was the group of experts and
public members making the recommendation determined to be “low
conflict-of-interest”? The panel was asked to disclose any financial or
intellectual conflicts from within the past 3 years. Only those with none were
invited to participate in the panel. But is 3 years long enough? Dr. Bradley
Johnston, the head researcher of the article, has industry ties that lie just
outside the 3 year window. The
New York Times and the
Washington Post reported on this and another author, Dr. Patrick Stover, who
has similar ties to the beef industry through the Agriculture and Life Sciences
(AgriLife) program at Texas A&M.
In the wake of the red meat article, prominent leaders in the field of nutrition and public health have criticized its recommendation. Prior years of nutritional research have illuminated the risk of frequent red and processed meat consumption in contracting heart disease and cancer. Some experts point to the distrust that this direct contradiction instills in scientific research, whose relationship with the public is already challenged in areas like global warming.
Environmental impact and humane animal practices were among the evidence that the panel did not take into consideration while making their recommendation. How would their recommendation change if they had considered these conditions? The evidence is staggering. Red and processed meat consumption contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases through animal agriculture and deforestation. Additionally, while meat consumption is rising across the globe, the stress on water availability, biodiversity, natural ecosystems, and the animals themselves increases as well. Higher demand for red meat has resulted in the sub-ideal conditions for animals that documentaries like Food Inc. have made us familiar with. Cattle, pork, and poultry often have limited access to open pasture and are fed unnatural diets with antibiotics to save money. Confronting this information was enough for me to decide to reduce meat consumption.
For many, incorporating meat into their diet is easier and cheaper than eating a plant-based diet. For those looking to reduce their carbon footprint through what they eat, I suggest purchasing poultry (cheaper) and meat alternatives (increasingly more accessible) over red meat. However, people also care about the nutritional value in their food. The rise in popularity of plant-based meat alternatives can be seen in the fast food industry. Notably, Burger King has released their Impossible Whopper within the last year, which uses an Impossible Burger patty made from soy and potato protein with the crucial ingredient of heme (the molecule attributed with “meaty” flavor). Despite whether it comes from a fast food restaurant or the meat aisle, we should still be reading the nutritional facts before congratulating ourselves on choosing the “healthy option”.
Overall, while doing my research into the red meat article controversy, my take-aways were as follows:
-A panel of experts and members of
the public made a recommendation to not change current red or processed meat
consumption habits based on a review of evidence that weakly points to adverse
-Like most recommendations, this
one has sources of bias despite the authors’ efforts to minimize them.
-Human nutrition research also has
its own caveats, confounding factors, and complexities. Since researchers can’t
control everything that a person eats in a day, we can’t expect a study to be
-Some of the authors have ties to
trade industries. Whether those ties influenced the recommendation of the
article remains uncertain.
-There are good reasons for
reducing meat consumption that pertain less to the health of an individual and
more to the health of an entire planet.
Written by Alyssa DeLeoNEUR. Coffee & Conversation is a series of informal chats with women faculty on campus, hosted by Tufts GWiSE.
Our last Coffee & Conversation of the year featured Dr. Laverne Melón, a post-doctoral fellow in the Maguire lab and a TEACRS scholar. She will joining Wesleyan University as a faculty professor in neuroscience in the Fall. Laverne was born in Trinidad and moved to New York when she was 10 years old. In high school, Laverne helped establish the science club, which she insists was the most poppin’ after school extracurricular at the time, and she knew she wanted to work in research before even knowing what that was. The science club gave her and her peers the chance to support each other in the search for research experiences and ultimately lead her to volunteer in a cancer genetics lab at Columbia University. As she reflects on her first experience in science, she also acknowledges that it was also her first exposure to the sexism and racism that exists in scientific institutions. It’s difficult to turn a blind eye to these situations when all you want to do is put your head down and do the work in front of you. But, she didn’t let this taint her passion for the field and her experiences spoke to her resilience, which would be noted by several scientists later in her career.
Laverne went on to earn a BA in neuroscience at Middlebury College, a MS in Behavioral Neuroscience at Binghamton, and a PhD in Addiction Neuroscience at IUPUI after her lab at Binghamton moved. She lost a Binghamton fellowship in the move and had to teach at IUPUI, which she found frustrating as anyone does when they’re forced to do something. However, Laverne began to enjoy the process and her career path in academia became increasing clear. Laverne has been a post-doc in Jamie Maguire’s lab for the last 4 ½ years studying effects of stress on reproductive health and the role of the GABAergic system in alcohol addiction. As she moved into her post-doctoral years, she was really fueled by a research question which she presented to Jamie along with some data to score her current position. Now, she’s fielding multiple offers for faculty positions and learning to navigate this new part of her career.
As always, we chatted about how early life experiences brought our guests to their current positions, how crucial the role of mentors played in this trajectory, and the vital importance of self-advocacy. But, we kept coming back to this idea of producing good, reproducible science and how that is only possible if the field really cared about the people behind the data. It’s no secret that scientific institutions have not been the best advocates for the health of their workforce. Levecque et al. published a study in May of 2017 reporting one in two PhD students experience psychological distress and 1/3 of graduate students are at risk for a psychiatric disorder. An online survey of graduate students in a recent March 2018 study by Evans et al. reports graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population. SIX times! It’s exceeding clear that health of scientists across fields and levels are struggling in this environment. This begins by hiring scientists that are more than a good researcher, but are inspired teachers, passionate mentors, and expert managers who are in touch the health of their lab.
As Laverne is beginning the next chapter of her career, she’s considering taking on an administrative position as a director of inclusion and diversity in addition to her faculty appointment. She intends to use her status to implement institutional changes to allow for better science through caring, supporting, and mentoring the next generation of scientists. When Laverne started to work in science, she admitted she tried to assimilate as much as possible, but it gets exhausting. It’s difficult to integrate into establishments and systems that have been hostile to the existence of women and minorities in science while trying to stick it out until you can get to a position to make changes. She’s been able to tap into her mentoring network over the years for support and instructed us to be vulnerable in our insecurities to allow these organic mentorships to grow.
If you’re interested in getting involved with GWiSE, follow us on Twitter @TuftsGWiSE, like us on Facebook, or email us at email@example.com. Our next Coffee & Conversation is October 19th, 2018 at 5PM in Jaharis 913.
The main responsibility of a biomedical researcher is to produce novel, trustworthy science that will improve human health. We may not be doing enough towards this goal, however, if we consider our research results to be our only impact on the human condition. How we conduct our research is just as critical as the results of our research, especially when it comes to the environmental footprint that research laboratories leave behind on university and medical campuses.
In 2013, Tufts University published a campus-wide report to assist the university in building a sustainable future. Working groups focused on three relevant sustainability areas—energy and water use, waste management, and greenhouse gas emissions—to develop actionable goals for reducing Tufts’ environmental impact. Regarding how laboratories and medical facilities factored into this impact, all working groups came to the same conclusion: “[these spaces were] singled out…as the greatest source of opportunity for increased sustainability across all Tufts campuses due to their large production of waste and heavy use of water and energy.”
Many universities, including Tufts, have implemented Green Labs initiatives in order to develop environmentally friendly research laboratories using a classic sustainability framework: reduce, reuse, recycle. Based on resources from Tufts’ Green Labs Initiative and similar programs at other institutions, here are some starting points for making laboratories and research facilities more sustainable.
Energy: Labs can significantly reduce energy usage by maximizing the efficiency of their ultra-low temperature (ULT, or -80°C) freezers, as in one year, a single ULT freezer uses the same amount of energy as an average American household. Frequent de-icing, regular upkeep, and maintained organization all decrease the amount of work and time (and thus energy) required by freezers to decrease temperature to the set point. To encourage these approaches, Tufts joined the International Freezer Challenge in 2017, which “rewards best practices in cold storage management”. Of note, three Sackler labs–the Munger lab, the McGuire lab, and the Bierderer lab–participated. Additionally, a less universally advertised, but possibly more effective, approach to reducing energy usage by ULT freezers is changing their set temperature. The University of Colorado at Boulder has accumulated a significant amount of information demonstrating that maintaining ULT freezers at -80°C may not be necessary, as many sample types are capable of being stored at -70°C without any significant loss of quality. Though seemingly trivial, this ten degree difference has huge implications for lowering energy usage , which also translates to reduced energy costs (Figure 1). By rough estimation, Tufts could save close to $50,000 per year on electricity if all ULT freezers in Jaharis, M&V, Stearns, South Cove, and Arnold were adjusted from -80°C to -70°C.
Figure 1. Yearly energy expenditure & cost savings for ten-degree increase in ULT freezer temperature.
Closing and/or turning off chemical fume hoods when not in use also mitigates electrical expenditure. At the Medford campus, undergraduate student Emma Cusack led a “Shut the Sash” initiative last year in order to reduce energy use and cost. Based on consultations with the Tufts’ Office of Sustainability about her work, it is estimated that lowering sashes of all 123 chemical hoods on the Sackler campus from 18” to 6” when not in use would result in yearly energy expediture savings of around 40,000 kWh and energy cost savings of over $200,000.
Figure 2. Yearly energy expenditure & cost savings for reducing sash height of chemical hoods.
Lastly, powering down non-essential lab equipment overnight and incorporating timers into power sources are also simple but meaningful methods of lowering energy usage. The latter method is especially helpful to maintain convenience along with energy efficiency, as incubators and dry ovens are shut off overnight but can still be ready-to-use upon arriving in lab, for example, if set to turn on in very early AM.
Water: A traditional autoclave requires 45-50 gallons of water per minute when in use, and this massive usage is due to the need for continuous addition of water for cooling steam condensate before draining into sewers. Equipment like Water-Mizers use real-time monitoring of drain temperature to add water for cooling only when needed, reducing water usage by at least half. Also, being mindful of when sterilization is actually required for equipment and using dishwashing services as an alternative also contributes to lowering water usage.
Within labs, addition of low-flow aerators to faucets and switching vacuum sources for aspirators from faucet-style to vacuum-style can also can significantly reduce water usage. Finally, being conscious of when it is really necessary to use distilled or deionized water, as the process wastes water that does not pass the filtering thresholds, can also contribute to making water usage by labs more efficient.
Materials: Styrofoam shipping containers and freezers packs can accumulate quickly in labs, given the frequency at which supplies are ordered and received. However, they are not necessarily easy to get rid of in sustainable ways. Many labs end up reusing some fraction of the styrofoam boxes and freezer packs they receive for experiments, which seems to be the most common and easily practiced alternative to throwing these shipping components away.
Materials: Another approach for sustainable disposal of styrofoam and freezer packs is recycling them. A handful of life sciences companies do sponsor recycling programs for styrofoam containers, including Sigma-Aldrich, Qiagen, and New England BioLabs (which has run such a program for over thirty years), but most companies do not, given the cost of such programs. Alternatively, for-hire companies specializing in styrofoam recycling can be contracted by universities, but again the associated cost can be a deterrent. Even rarer are return programs for freezer packs, as the combination of contamination concerns and the cost of re-sterilizing seems to discourage their implementation.
The amount of plastic materials that biomedical research labs use are also quite high, though recycling used materials such as pipette tips, serological pipettes, conical tubes, or microcentrifuge tubes is often not convenient or feasible due to biological contamination. However, containers for materials (i.e. cell culture media bottles, pipette tip boxes) can be sterilized and disposed of much more easily. In the case of pipette tip boxes, several companies–such as Fisher Scientific, USA Scientific, Corning, and VWR–do sponsor programs where discarded boxes are collected or received via mail for recycling.
While achieving greener laboratories first requires implementation of sustainable practices like those listed above, the success of such efforts ultimately depends on institutional support and researcher engagement. Even if such resources and programs are offered by companies or research institutions, scientists need to be made clearly aware of their existence to take advantage of them. Accordingly, university- or departmental-level promotion of and encouragement for sustainable practices could substantially increase researcher interest and participation. Implementing reward-based systems, including financial incentives, for labs that ‘go green’ could also help motivate investigators to commit to practicing sustainable science.
In being more conscious of the environmental footprint that biomedical research leaves behind, scientists can clean up our own backyard and stand on firmer ground when encouraging others to do the same.
Thank you to Tina Woolston and Shoshana Blank from the Tufts Office of Sustainability and to Stephen Larson and Josh Foster from Tufts Environmental Health & Safety for providing information and resources on chemical hood numbers, energy usage, and costs.
This past June, around seventy-five graduate students and faculty members joined Dean Dan Jay and Associate Dean Dan Volchok in the DeBlois Auditorium to reflect on the previous year’s progress and endeavors at the Sacker School. Various community leaders briefly presented on topics that reflect the Deans’ new mission of training to career excellence followed by open discussion between all attendees. Following the larger meeting, attendees continued to engage in these topics in smaller groups over lunch to continue pushing these goals forward in the coming year.
Jay opened the meeting by reviewing the results of career development “trial balloons” that the new administration worked towards last year. He celebrated the high interest and positive reactions from trainees for the new short courses, including Introduction to Drug Development (50 attendees), Navigating the Corporate Environment (22 attendees), and the R Programming Workshop (34 attendees). Building on this positive momentum, additional short courses will be offered in the coming year. A ‘science storytelling’ workshop and an entrepreneurship short course have been developed for the fall semester, with a teaching short course planned for the spring. There are also plans to develop the Introduction to Drug Development course into an official Sackler-wide elective for the spring semester. In addition, two career counseling workshops by Sarah Cardozo Duncan will again be offered in the 2018-2019 for students and post-docs who are interested in industry-related careers.
Not all career development endeavours in Sackler last year had such immediate success, however. The initiative to place students who have completed Year 1, Year 2, or their thesis requirements in summer industry internships encountered several difficulties, including reluctance from potential partner companies. That reluctance mainly stemmed from aversion to such a short internship time period (3 months), as several companies in conversation with Sackler administration requested at least a 6-month full-time commitment from students. Meeting attendees generally agreed that this length of time would be difficult for both PIs and students to commit to without serious disruption to research progress. However, there was at least one successful internship negotiation and placement, suggesting that the program may still be developed but not in as broad a manner as originally intended. A case-by-case determination was concluded to be the best approach moving forward, with the requirement for extensive conversations and mutual agreement between student, PI, and hosting company on timeline and degree of commitment being emphasized.
In reiterating his desire to see Sackler become a leader in career training for biomedical graduate students, Jay described his aspiration to develop a tuition-bearing, two-year master’s program in Biomedical Leadership. Matriculating students would have the opportunity to train for various career tracks related to biomedical research, and their curriculum would include current and future career development short courses or electives offered within Sackler. During the group-wide discussion session, the possibility of offering a 4+1-style master’s program in collaboration with the undergraduate branch of Tufts University was put forward and positively received.
Another main topic of the community meeting was the state of graduate research training at Sackler. Opening discussions involved debating the merits of switching from the current program-specific curriculum design to a single core curriculum that all first-year graduate trainees–regardless of program–would take. Across programs, students generally were opposed to a core curriculum in regards to scientific content, emphasizing that most seek a graduate education specifically to specialize in a particular area. They did support the suggestion that any core courses in scientific content should be ‘nanocourses’, instead of full required or elective courses. In contrast, developing a skills-focused core curriculum that included classes such as research methods, quantitative biology & bioinformatics, and statistics seemed to have wide support from both students and faculty. In addition to curriculum content, the possibility of expanding the MERGE (Medically-Oriented Research in Graduate Education) beyond the Immunology and Molecular Microbiology programs was discussed. The MERGE program trains participants in clinical aspects of their research area during the summer prior to their first graduate year at Sackler. During this time, they are also paired with a clinical mentor who provides them direct contact with patients and clinicians and serves as a thesis committee member during their research training. Given the proximity of Tufts Medical Center, it was advocated for the Sackler School to take advantage of the opportunity to give more PhD students training in regards to the clinical impact of their research. Genetics and Neuroscience were considered as programs which MERGE could expand to, but no specific plans for that expansion were discussed.
Strengthening the Sackler community was also a significant theme of the meeting. During a discussion about building diversity and inclusion at Sackler, students expressed the need for more structured support from the school. They expressed that while student-led initiatives such as SPINES (Students Promoting Inclusive Excellence at Sackler) provide excellent resources and opportunities for underrepresented minority (URM) students, the responsibility of delivering such support should not fall so heavily on the trainees themselves. Through this discussion, it was emphasized that bringing more URM junior faculty–from Tufts or other institutions–to speak at graduate seminars could help build networks for students to rely on. In addition, hosting a greater number of Sackler-wide events during the year, especially during recruitment, could foster a greater sense of community and provide more school-directed opportunities for URM individuals to connect across programs. Another discussion about community building focused on developing stronger alumni networks. The career development short courses were one way in which the Dean’s Office started on this initiative already. Various alumni contributed their expertise and their time to the courses’ development and operation, which was key to their success; this arrangement also provided a structured environment in which students could take the opportunity to develop professional connections with alumni in their career areas of interest. Given the positive outcomes from this year using this approach, there are plans to build on this foundation for similar endeavours in the future. Dean Jay also discussed his efforts over the last year in reaching out to Sackler alumni for fundraising, which he had done in collaboration with Roxanne Beal from the School of Medicine’s Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations. To broaden this effort, faculty were encouraged to reach out to their former trainees, and the group supported the idea of current students reaching out to alumni for an annual fund.
Overall, the morning and lunchtime discussions provided great insight into the past year’s success as well as highlighted what aspects of graduate training at Sackler still need to be strengthened, and the dialogue between students, faculty, and staff generated actionable items for the administration to take on in the coming academic year.
The image used here is released under Creative Commons CC0.
Writing an F award application is kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. There are lots of pieces, they all need to fit together just so, and it feels like it will never be complete. But writing – whether it be manuscripts, reports, or grant proposals – is a huge part of any scientist’s career, and it shouldn’t be an unpleasant process. F awards, which provide a stipend, health fees, tuition, and travel, are a great first step into the world of scientific writing.
There are a few oft-repeated adages that are thrown around when it comes to grant proposals, such as “Make your aims related, but independent” and “You need to study a little bit of a mechanism.” While these are helpful in their own way, here are some other tips to make applying for your first F award a bit smoother:
Take advantage of info sessions
Sackler offers two information sessions every year for potential F30 (M.D./Ph.D.) and F31 (Ph.D.) applicants. If you have questions about when to apply, writing, or anything else, this is the place to ask them. An additional day-long workshop is being held for the first time this year, hosted by Dean Dan Jay.
The Application – June 5th, 2 – 3:30 PM
Demystifying the Review Process – June 7th, 2 – 3:30 PM
*Writing Your Specific Aims – June 15th
*Attendance at the first two session is required for this workshop. Attendance will be limited to 20 participants.
Make a list
There are several pieces to this application – so many that it’s possible for some of them to fall through the cracks. A checklist is a simple way to ensure you won’t need to rush to complete a document (or worse, start writing it!) minutes before the deadline. The following list is accurate as of Spring 2018:
Abstract/Project SummaryApplicant’s Background and Goals for Fellowship Training
Bibliography and References Cited
Facilities and Other Resources
Letters of Support
Resource Sharing Plan
Responsible Conduct of Research
Selection of Sponsor and Institution
If you’re resubmitting your application, you’ll also need to include an “Introduction,” a one-page document where you respond to the criticisms of each reviewer.
Gather preliminary data
To the bench! With data in hand, you can work with your advisor to determine what kind of story you want to tell. Your goal here will be to gather data that will demonstrate the feasibility of your proposal. Starting early is key, as this process can take several months. The more data you have, the better. It shows the reviewers that you can work hard and be productive.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Begin crafting your figures before writing. Figures are a visual representation of your story; having it effectively “storyboarded” out makes it easy to see where there are holes in your data. Patching these now makes for a much stronger initial application.
Make your Aims into an outline
Your Specific Aims page functions as an overall summary of your proposal. While your reviewers must read the whole proposal, you should assume that most other panel members will only scan this section. All of the critical aspects of your proposal should be clearly stated here, including the impact and novelty of your research.
Stagger writing with editing
Once you write your initial aims, send it to your advisor for comments and get started on the next piece of your application. As your advisor returns documents with comments, you can edit and send them back. A continuous cycle of writing, editing, and rewriting keeps the process moving and keeps you from working on the same document for too long. You’re more likely to catch typos and other errors by looking every so often with fresh eyes.
Play the matching game
Consistency is huge in any F award application. You will reference your aims multiple times in the Research Strategy section. As you craft your proposal, make sure that the methods listed under each aim match in the Research Strategy and Specific Aims sections.
Ctrl-F for key words
There are certain core concepts that, when missing, are easy for reviewers to point out as a flaw. Your application should not only comment on the novelty and innovation of your proposed research, but also include key phrases such as “sex as a biological variable.” Reviewers may simply search for these terms to see if you address them, so you should do it, too. Talk to your advisor for some examples. As someone who writes and reviews grants, they will know exactly what they would look for in a proposal.
Skip the jargon
Not every reviewer you have will be an expert in your field. In fact, it’s likely that none of them will be familiar with your precise topic of interest. If a simple word will do the job, use the simple word. The less reviewers have to think about what you’re trying to say, the better they will feel about your proposal.
Easier said than done, right? Don’t be discouraged if your proposal isn’t funded in its initial submission. Only about 13% of applications are at Sackler. However, making the strongest proposal you can initially will make it easier to edit for resubmission, and much more likely to be funded the second time around. Over the last five years, Sackler applicants have had a 30% success rate (this number includes both proposals funded initially and those funded after resubmission). For a breakdown of success rates by NIH institute, check out the following link: https://report.nih.gov/success_rates/. The F30/F31 spreadsheet is #3 under “Training and Research Career Development Programs.”
Finally, take a break once you’ve submitted the proposal! Rest and recharge before returning to the bench so you can get ahead on your next project.
The Sackler Graduate Student Council (GSC) held an open meeting last week, on April 5, 2018. The turnout was good – every program had at least one non-GSC student at the meeting. “We want people to know what we do,” Rebecca Silver, our current GSC President, stated.
GSC meetings generally begin with an update from the treasurer, a monthly recap from the three sub-committees (Career Paths, Social, and Outreach), and conclude with action items. As the environment was low-key, non-GSC attendees comfortably offered thoughts and ideas on a variety of matters. If you want the low-down on what events the sub-committees have planned, check out The Goods email (arriving in your inbox weekly).
Sackler Relays was a big topic at this particular meeting. The event has been set for June 8th (mark your calendar!) and subjects ranging from raffle prizes to activities to food were discussed. A popular idea was to potentially have a faculty team for the first time – who doesn’t like a little friendly competition? All in all, a productive meeting. “And at the end of the day,” Silver said, “everyone got some free pizza!”
Chatting with the non-GSC attendees after the event, it was clear that many were curious about the kind of delegation that occurs on the council, wanted to have input, or were interested in becoming a representative for their program in the future. Just remember, according to the bylaws, all GSC meetings are open, and you can get in touch with your program rep(s) if you’re interested in attending regularly. GSC wants to hear your ideas!
It’s not uncommon to hear young, aspiring scientists say, “I hate writing. That’s why I’m going into science!” Plot twist: we do a lot of writing as scientists. Writing is pervasive in this field. We write to disseminate our research to the wider scientific community, to get funding, to get hired. It’s surprising that, as a community, we don’t devote much time to formally training students in the writing process.
Enter Stephen Heard, an evolutionary ecologist, who wrote “The Scientist’s Guide to Writing” to help address this gap in training. He draws from the scientific study of scientific writing, filling in the gaps with his own experiences with the writing process. The result is a book that not only advises readers on what to include in different written works, but also provides exercises that can be used to improve their use of the craft.
When scientists write about their research, the goal is mainly to convince other scientists that the body of work is important, and completely necessary, to the advancement of a particular scientific field. To do this, any arguments made need to be clear and well-founded, easily transferable from the page to the reader’s brain. Heard addresses this by offering his reader details about what writing actually is, beginning with the history of scientific writing and its unique evolution.
Throughout the book, Heard draws his reader to several conclusions, including three crucial tips: first, that any body of work must be crystal clear (in his words, it should “seem telepathic”); second that making note of things you like when you are reading can bolster your own writing; and third, that every word should be considered and removed if unnecessary. These conclusions apply across the board—not just to manuscripts, but also to grants and other types of scientific communication.
While a book on writing may not seem especially interesting, Heard’s advice is invaluable to the developing writer. Reading this, or a similar book, should be considered critical training for every student of the sciences.
Last month the Sackler Insight hosted a contest to find the best science-based art (“sci-art”) at Sackler. All twelve entries were posted to the Sackler Graduate Student Council Instagram account (@SacklerGSC) and the Sackler student Facebook group. The winning contributor will receive a $25 Visa gift card!
The results are in! 174 voters from both Instagram and Facebook weighed in on their favorite pictures. Our lucky first place winner is Mary H. from Microbiology with her photo “An enteroid supernova,” which received 65 votes. Runners-up included Rana A. from PDD with “Making the best of a bad Western” (61 votes) and Rob C. from CMDB with “Monday Blues – Screening One-Bead-One-Compound Peptide Libraries” (39 votes).
Congratulations Mary, and thank you to everyone who participated! You can check out the pictures below: