Editor-in-Chief: Liisa Hantsoo ( bpcnewsletters-at-gmail.com )
Co-Editors: Bethany Broookshire, Morgan Reuter and Caleph Wilson
By Morgan Reuter mreuter-at-mail.med.upenn.edu
You know what you study; you know the system, the protocols, the literature, and the data down to the smallest detail. You toil away in the lab doing your very best to produce groundbreaking research that will advance your field of study. After all of this hard work, you finally make THE DISCOVERY. What happens next? In my opinion, the answer to this question is what separates the good scientists from the great scientists.
Good scientists explain their findings to their bosses, lab mates, and other people within their immediate field. These scientists understand the result and its significance, and can generate some level of enthusiasm. However, when good scientists explain their results to a broader audience, they may be met with a lackluster response.
Great scientists, though, can share their findings with and provoke interest in all audiences. They are successful because they know how to bridge the gap. These scientists have found a way to communicate their work to anyone they meet, from colleagues they see every day to scientists in unrelated fields to members of the community with no scientific background. Your science is only as good as your ability to communicate it to others. I think Lee Iacocca said it best when he said “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere”.
The ability to explain your science to others is critical for your personal success. Effective communicators can convey their ideas succinctly and clearly, showing how their research advances the field. They are the ones who hold your attention at seminars that are not directly related to your work and whose papers catch and keep your eye as you are flipping through journals. These are the people who get funded in tough economic times and secure job offers in an increasingly competitive academic environment. These days, you cannot guarantee career success solely through hard work or intelligence. You have to practice and hone your communication skills. Next time you give lab meeting, ask for feedback about your presentation skills and slide clarity. Speak with your PI about helping to review manuscripts or write sections of grants. Actively participate in poster sessions. Present your work as often as possible in a variety of environments.
Clear communication is also essential for the success of science in this country. The European Union and China are quickly surpassing the United States in the fields of science and engineering. The US will be left behind if we cannot convince the general public that science is vital to our nation and that we need to invest in research. The crux of this problem is that there is a massive disconnect between the science community and the general public. The two groups frequently think and act in very different ways. Great scientists recognize this and explain their work in a digestible manner. They are able to explain it to everyone, not just their peers. They know that making a difference involves sharing their work with others and they never lose sight of the bigger picture. These communication skills are key and take practice. Call your mom or dad and have a conversation about your research. Better yet, call your grandmother or grandfather or niece or nephew. Find a way to have engaged discussions about your work or science in general as often as possible, with as many different people as you can. You will not only be helping yourself by developing excellent communication skills but you will be helping science as a whole by getting the community engaged and invested in the sciences.
By Bethany Brookshire
Funding for medical research continues to decline. At first, many academics viewed it as a survival of the fittest, or just buckled down and submitted more grants. But now, when there are more hopeful scientists than ever and scientific funding continues to decrease, we can’t just keep hiding in our labs. While some of our work is funded by private or local endeavors, the National Institutes of Health provides the largest funding support for medical research, not only in the United States but in the world. However, since 2003, the budget for the NIH has remained basically flat. While that’s still $30.6 billion in funding, the lack of increase in the budget, means that, in fact, we have lost 20% of the purchasing power necessary to be at the forefront of medical research.
Decreases in federal funding for grant research impact not only our livelihoods, but the pace of scientific discovery, and the development of treatments and cures. As problems like cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, and antibiotic resistance continue to affect our society, we need to not only look for treatments and mechanisms, but to communicate and protect our need for funding to do our work.
To that end, a large number of groups, including the American Association for Cancer Research, Lilly, the American Society of Hematology, The American Heart Association, the Society for Neuroscience, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and many others, have teamed up for the Rally for Medical Research. Held April 8th in Washington, D.C. on the steps of the Carnegie Library, the Rally for Medical Research is a call to policymakers to relieve the cuts in federal research dollars, and to make medical research the priority it needs to be for our nation’s health. The rally hopes to raise awareness about the importance of funding from the National Institutes of Health in advancing medical progress. With a large turnout, the Rally for Medical Research hopes that policymakers will pay attention and become aware of how risky cuts to medical research are for science and health in American, both now and in the future.
So if you want to help, head to DC on April 8th, and make your voice heard for medical research! And if you can’t get away from the bench, there are many other ways to help. During the week of April 8th, you could call or write our Senators and Congressmen, letting them know how important medical research is locally and internationally. You could get a group of friends together and set up a visit with our Congresspeople. You can Tweet or Facebook or email, showing your support for medical research funding. You could even write an op-ed for publication! And during the rally itself, you will be able to follow along on a live webcast and a Twitter feed.
We can’t hide in our labs anymore, hoping our grants will go through. We need to show the world how much our research is needed, and how vital our work is to the nation’s physical and economic health. If you’d like to help, check out the Rally for Medical Research webpage, and consider heading down to Washington! We can let our voices be heard.
By Liisa Hantsoo LiisaHa2-at-mail.med.upenn.edu
Juggling is a skill that many academics pick up in the workplace. You know – the grant application that’s due next week, the lab protocol you need to troubleshoot, and the journal club you’re supposed to lead this afternoon. Experiments to run, data to analyze, manuscripts to write. And while we’re often able to juggle a number of roles and projects, sometimes it can become too much. Have you ever noticed that as soon as the grant deadline has passed, you feel that tickle in your throat indicating that a cold is coming on? It may not be purely coincidence. Research shows that after periods of stress, our immune system is taxed, and is less efficient in fending off germy invaders. In a classic experiment by Sheldon Cohen1 and colleagues, research participants were quarantined, then exposed to nasal drops containing a common cold virus (e.g. rhinovirus) or saline nasal spray. Participants were also asked to report on stress in their lives – whether they felt that their lives were unpredictable, uncontrollable, or overwhelming. The researchers found that rates of respiratory infection and clinical colds increased in a dose-response manner with self-reported psychological stress. The more stressed you felt, the more likely you were to develop a cold after exposure to a virus. This relationship held even after the researchers controlled for factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, and sleep quality. Reactivation of latent viruses is affected by stress too. In other words, that cold sore erupting on your lip just in time for the conference presentation may be making an appearance due to the stress you’re feeling. A meta-analysis revealed a robust association between psychosocial stress and symptomatic herpes simplex virus (HSV) recurrence2. Increased stress, often operationalized by researchers as exam stress, has also been associated with slower wound healing, worsening of allergies, and exacerbation of eczema 3,4,5.
It is not just how we perceive stress, but how we act in response to it. When analyzing daily social interactions, researchers found that negative or competitive interactions predicted elevated elevated proinflammatory cytokine activity 6. Proinflammatory cytokines have been associated with myriad health issues, ranging from cardiovascular disease to diabetes. So the next time you’re tempted to flip off that driver who cut you off, stop and think about how you’re responding to stress, and how it might affect your health.
How can we protect ourselves from the detrimental effects of stress? In further research by Cohen and colleagues, the team found that having a variety of social relationships helped to buffer against the effects of stress 7. Participants who had few social relationships were four times more likely to become sick after virus exposure than those with a diverse social network. Thus, maintaining social ties may be beneficial for not only emotional health, but also for physical health. Research by Shelley Taylor and colleagues suggests an interesting gender difference in stress and social support. When stressed, women tended to turn to their social networks for support, while men tended to withdraw. However, research has indicated that for both men and women, satisfying and regular social contact is associated with lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines 8,9. Exercise has also been shown to help in managing stress. Men who participated in an exercise group, compared to a control group, had improved mood and improved immune markers 10. Women who had practiced yoga at least 75-90 minutes per week for at least 2 years had lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines than women who were novice yogis 11. If you don’t feel like hitting the gym, meditation may also be beneficial. Regular meditation or relaxation practice may improve one’s immune profile, particularly mindfulness meditation, which is often taught in eight week mindfulness-based stress reduction courses 12, 13. And, that glass of wine with dinner may not be a bad idea. Researchers found that people who drank moderately, and did not smoke, had a lower risk of developing colds 14.
So, the next time you find yourself caught in a juggling act, try to take a moment to catch up with a friend, take a few deep breaths, or squeeze in some exercise. In taking time for yourself, you may be benefiting not only your emotional well-being, but your physical well-being.
1: Cohen, S. et al, 1991. N Engl J Med. 325(9):606-12
2: Chida & Mao, 2009. Brain, Behav, Immun. 23(7):917-25
3: Liu et al., 2002. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. 165, 1062—1067
4: Langan et al., 2006. Br J Dermatol. 155(3):504-14.
5: Marucha et al., 1998. Psychosom Med. 60(3):362-5.
6: Chiang et al., 2012. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 109(6):1878-82.
7: Cohen & Brissette, 2000. JOSS. 1 (3).
8: Friedman et al., 2005. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 102(51):18757-62.
9: Loucks et al., 2006. Am J Cardiol. 97(7):1010-6.
10: Cassilhas et al., 2010. Percept Mot Skills. 110(1):265-76
11: Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2010. Psychosom Med. 72(2):113-21.
12: Rosenkranz et al., 2013. Brain Behav Immun. 27(1):174-84.
13: Kiecolt-Glaser et al. 2001. J Consult Clin Psychol. 69(4):674-82.
14: Cohen et al., Am J Public Health. 83(9):1277-83.
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